Mike Ditka, of the National Football League Hall Of Fame, was 6 feet 3 inches and 228 pounds in his playing days.
Betty Gilbert, of Egg Harbor Township, was 5 feet tall and 110 pounds — maybe.
But when Gilbert and Ditka came up against each other, the little old lady won.
Her son, Lee, says the meeting was at Atlantic City Country Club, where Ditka played in a celebrity golf tournament and Betty was a volunteer — because she volunteered for lots of local causes, for decades.
Her job was to keep anyone without a player’s badge out of the locker room. And because Ditka forgot his badge, and Betty didn’t recognize him, she stopped him. He had to get an official to vouch for him before she let him in.
Lee, 71, of Somers Point, still laughs telling that story about his mom, who died March 29 after a heart attack. She would have turned 91 this week.
But Lee has no trouble believing his mom stood up and did her job. She always commanded respect, including for years in one of her favorite volunteer venues, the ShopRite LPGA Classic.
Lee was chairman of the marshals, the volunteers who keep the crowds quiet while the players play. And Betty was a marshal for almost 20 years, even if she never played golf once in her life.
Betty’s normal spot was the first tee, where she was so popular with the players, they called her “Mom.” She was such a fixture that when she missed the tournament one year, for a dream trip to Hawaii with a church group, lots of pros asked if Mom was OK.
She was, and in June, Betty was back as a marshal — at 90.
“If there was a volunteer opportunity, she was on it,” says Lee’s wife, Beverly. “It was like it became a full-time job.”
Betty’s husband, Roy, died 25 years ago, about the same time she retired after 28 years as a clerical worker with the Federal Aviation Administration.
The Rev. Janet Gasbarro is interim pastor at Epiphany Lutheran Church in Pleasantville. Epiphany’s food pantry was Betty’s pet project at her church, but the truth, Gasbarro says, is that “she did so many things, nobody has the whole picture of them. She was in constant motion.”
Lee, the oldest of Betty’s three sons, says his mom knew all about being poor. Her father was disabled and died when she was a kid, and her family moved a few times between Atlantic City and Pleasantville, “to keep ahead of the landlord,” Lee says.
“She worked hard all life,” her daughter-in-law adds. “She wasn’t a woman who sat back and took what life gave her. She came from being poor and made quite a life for herself and her children. Everyone who knew her just respected and admired her.”
Everyone, including ex-NFL stars who ran into Betty when she had a job to do.
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