Remembering Bettie Bradley, a middle-aged, divorced, mother of three who went on to edit Today’s Bride for 35 years
A mother of three and divorcée who reinvented herself, Bettie Bradley launched her own beauty magazine before becoming the longtime editor-in-chief of Today’s Bride.
It was the 1970s, and “the world was not generous to middle-aged divorced women,” says her daughter Jane Bradley. Bettie found herself in her 40s, single with three kids, and needing employment. “No one was hiring a mother of three who hadn’t worked in over 15 years,” says Jane. “So, she started small.”
Born in Toronto to Jane Balmer and Henry Ralph Blight, who worked at Goodyear Tire, Bettie Blight was always “her own person,” says her son, John Bradley. Daring, bold and smart, the younger sister of Rene had many friends.
Following her graduation from Mimico High School, Bettie took a course at New York City’s Parsons School of Design, aspiring “to be more than a teacher or a secretary,” says Jane, “the few options for women at the time.”
Her first job as a bookkeeper was the start of her time with the Canadian Wallpaper Company. It led to a position as a colour stylist and lecturer, which saw the outgoing Bettie touring the country, then becoming a public relations director. “Mom liked being in the public eye,” says daughter Meghan Bradley. “She was an entertainer.” was also a talented writer, with a syndicated column on decorating that appeared in the Toronto Telegram.
She became the manager of the Toronto Sportsmen’s Show, a consumer and trade exhibition. Its co-owner, John Bradley,then offered Bettie a job as an account executive and head of the new women’s division at his advertising agency, Bradley, Venning and Hilton Ltd. They married in 1958, becoming parents to John (1959), Jane (1961) and Meghan (1966).
Following the couple’s separation, the Mississauga Times took a chance on Bettie, who was in her late 40s. From 1975 to 1980, her weekly column, Adam’s Rib — later simply titled Bettie Bradley — chronicled her friends, her family and her life.
“She wrote about being newly divorced and what that meant for a woman in a culture that covets couplings,” says Meghan, “how she moved forward as a single woman and established new rules with her current friends. She wrote about how she nurtured her old friends and made new ones, raising three kids, pay equity, feminism, women she admired and politics.”
Her humour, candidness and vulnerability were a hit, and Bettie became a local personality. In 1978, she accepted a full-time position as the paper’s community editor, a role in which she thrived. “She loved interviewing people and finding that story that would resonate with her readers,” says Jane.
Two years later, Bettie took a job as executive editor at Beauté magazine — a publication distributed at Shoppers Drug Mart locations throughout Canada — and editor of the Beauty Book, a trade publication. Beauté folded within a year of Bettie’s arrival, and after months of job hunting, she launched All About You, a magazine to fill the opening in the market. “She bootstrapped this new career,” says her son John.
With her ex-husband as a silent partner, Bettie set up the magazine’s headquarters in his unused office space on Shuter Street.
Bettie “hustled,” says Jane, the magazine’s general manager. “She met with the presidents of makeup companies hoping they would support her magazine. The office’s location — “a row house connected to a men’s shelter” — was less than ideal. “We would turn on our electric typewriters and cockroaches would come crawling out,” says Jane. “That memory is seared.”
The first printing bill, for $50,000, forced Bettie to remortgage her home — a process she’d repeat for every issue. After her former husband moved on to another job, Bettie produced All About You from her Mississauga home, where she worked long hours and weekends. Unable to afford a warehouse, she stored each issue’s 200,000 copies in the garage.
Despite the challenges, the magazine was a success, with distribution through London Drugs, Guardian/IDA and Big V Drug Stores. But competition from such recent launches as Flare and Toronto Life’s Fashion was fierce. “Being solo against these larger, more monied publications was very difficult,” says Jane. Needing financial backing to grow the magazine, Bettie sold All About You to Family Communications Inc., in 1982.
At Family Communications, Bettie became editor-in-chief of Today’s Bride and company vice president, holding both posts for 35 years. The only woman on the board of directors, she worked with both Jane (who oversaw the parenting division of Family Communications) and Meghan (vice president of sales) for years. The experience, says Meghan, “enriched our relationship beyond mother and daughter and we knew each other as well-rounded women and could talk about anything.”
As fluidly as she transitioned from newspapers to magazines, Bettie made the leap into television. For eight years in the ’80s, she co-hosted CHCH’s “The New You,” a pioneering makeover show sponsored by Maybelline, with Miss Universe Karen Baldwin. “Mom spoke to the audience as if she was having a conversation around the kitchen table,” says Meghan. “She knew makeup, but more importantly, she knew how to be warm and kind.”
As “a plus-sized middle-aged woman talking about beauty and fashion,” says Jane, Bettie was ahead of her time. “Her style and her hats — she had more than 60; felt for the winter and straw for the summer — were definitely her trademark.”
An entry in Canadian Who’s Who, Bettie wrote “The Wedding Expert: 400 Things You Need to Know to Plan Your Big Day” for Random House at age 88, promoting the book on a cross-Canada tour. The grandmother to Stefanie, Michael, Bradley, Jason, Madison, Mackenzy, Davis and Christopher retired from Today’s Bride at age 90, becoming a spokesperson for the Seniors Hot Line (an initiative for seniors who lived alone). At the time of her death, she was working on a book about kindness.