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Betty Hill Takes Flight

Betty Hill


Whether or not she was abducted by aliens from outer space, Betty was among the most interesting people in town. The editor remembers a fascinating Portsmouth woman.




Many months ago Betty Hill called and left a message on my answering machine. I called back.

"Guess what?" she said with that patented deep cackle thickened by thousands of packs of cigarettes.

"I’ve got cancer," she said and laughed heartily.

She had beaten cancer before, twice, she said. But this time it looked bad. At 85 she was sounding less convinced than usual that she could tough her way through this one.

We had talked, off an on, about writing something together. She was, after all, the "grandmother of UFO abductees". The pseudo-science of UFOlogy is based, in part, on her reported trip in an alien craft over 40 years ago with her husband Barney. Interrupted Journey, the book of her experiences by journalist John Fuller, is a classic. When we talked, as often as possible, she steered the topic on to other things – politics, science, genealogy. She was sick of talking about the UFO thing, she said, but she could always be drawn back.

After her chemotherapy, we talked just twice. We were planning to meet at her house on State Street. I dropped off a copy of my new book and some UFO-shaped fruit candy. But she had become brittle. Walking in the yard soon after, she fell and broke both legs and one arm. We were going to meet again, but the angels came.

A lot has been and will be said about Betty Hill. She herself said much of it, in endless hours talking to radio disc-jockeys, in school classrooms, among friends gathered in her kitchen. I once ran off two dozen articles about her that I found on the Internet for her to read. She didn’t own a computer.

"They’re all right," she said, meaning that all the reports were accurate. She didn’t have a bone to pick with anyone. She seemed pleased that so many people had spent so much time recounting and analyzing her experience.

Again and again she reminded me that her husband Barney had done many important things other than ride around with her in a flying saucer. He had started the Rockingham Community Action program. He was a good man, a friend of the poor.

Last week I bought a photograph on eBay. It is a publicity still from the TV-movie made about her reported close encounter with extraterrestrials. The photo is signed by James Earl Jones, the famous actor with the barrel chest and booming voice. Jones battled to play Barney, she told me.

"He thought it was one of the best roles available for a black man to play at the time," she said.

The picture arrived today. I was going to ride over and show it to her, but the newspaper says she died. I’m not sure I believe them. For at least two decades Betty Hill has been carrying around a newspaper clipping printed with the notice of her death. I think she mentioned it every time we met.

"I’m not dead yet," she would say, then laugh, then cough, then laugh again and take a deep pull on her cigarette.

If you knew Betty, even now, you might be tempted to agree. She was never ever dull, always twisting for a battle, never short on conspiracy theories. She was as full of life and spirit as six people have a right to be.

Despite what the scientists say, not everyone is unique. Hordes of people are as identical as cans on a shelf. They get their opinions off TV and recite their beliefs from books. I’ve been to large parties where not one soul could hold a candle to the likes of Betty Hill.

If those aliens really did give her a thorough medical exam, as she claimed, they have a pretty skewed image of the rest of us human beings. She set the bar high. Betty Hill was her own woman, and this planet is a little duller for the loss of her.

SEE: The UFO Incident
READ: The Grounding of Betty Hill

Copyright © 2004 by J. Dennis Robinson. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced in whole or in part without written permssion.

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