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Betsy Ebeling, Hillary Clinton’s best friend and ‘incredibly wonderful person,’ dies

The two women grew up in Park Ridge together.

Betsy Ebeling, bottom, school friend of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., cheers after Clinton won six states during the presidential primary at Junior’s Sports Lounge, Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2008.
AP

Buddy.

Confidant.

Cat herder.

Betsy Ebeling, 73, who was known as Hillary Rodham Clinton’s best friend and first childhood school chum, died Sunday in Arlington Heights after a long battle with breast cancer.

Ebeling and Clinton had a long history together dating back to when they were sixth-graders at Eugene Field School in Park Ridge.

“It’s so sudden because Betsy was always busy gathering Hillary and all of us who had been close — especially her Park Ridge school buddies, which she jokingly likened to herding cats,” said Kathy Burgess, a close friend.

Ebeling was working on getting everyone together for a “slumber party” in Indiana Aug. 9- 11, Burgess said.

“It’s unbelievable. A slumber party which now could turn into a memorial,” said Burgess. “Betsy had been having treatments, but nothing slowed her down. But something hit her a few weeks ago.

“Betsy was always there for all of us, encouraging us, and was with Hillary at her brother Tony’s funeral last month,” said Burgess.

As recently as May, Hillary sat next to Ebeling at a private fundraiser for The Heartland Alliance to aid victims of torture. It was there Ebeling took off her wig “which some of us interpreted as Betsy’s way of honoring those enduring suffering,” said Brian McPartlin, a close friend and former White House advance man during the Clinton administration — and during Hillary’s presidential run.

“If you were to go to the dictionary and look up the word ‘loyal,’ there could no greater example than Betsy Ebeling when it came to her friendship with Hillary Clinton,” he said.

“Betsy was the glue that held all their childhood school friends from Park Ridge together. They ate olive burgers after movies at the Pickwick Theater; they drank Cokes at Booby’s; they were together from childhood to teenage years and through college and marriage.”

And when Park Ridge renamed the street where Hillary grew up in Clinton’s honor, “it was Betsy who organized Hillary’s 50th birthday party,” McPartlin said.

Even last week, Ebeling was working to promote Hillary.

“I texted her Wednesday and Betsy was still working on a project to showcase Hillary’s years in Park Ridge,” he said.

Chicago PR giant Rick Jasculca, whose late wife, Judy, had been close to Betsy, said “the hope is that the Park Ridge Historical Society would host (Betsy’s project) as a part of an initiative focused on Park Ridge alums who had gone on to make history.”

He added: “Betsy provided great comfort to my wife, Judy, on her final journey. Betsy was special. Amazing.

“Betsy was an incredibly wonderful person and very loved,” recalled Kevin Conlon, a top Chicago politico.

Ebeling was Clinton’s matron of honor at her wedding to Bill Clinton.

At the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia in 2016, Ebeling cast the Illinois delegate votes for Hillary Clinton.

”On this historic, wonderful day, in honor of ... my sweet friend — I know you’re watching — this one’s for you, Hill,” Ebeling said in casting the votes.

Back in 1998, the then first lady made a quick trip to comfort Ebeling at the funeral of Ebeling’s mother, Roslyn Johnson.

Sneed attended the funeral and wrote: “Dressed in a black pantsuit, Clinton bent the ear of the throng at the Glueckert Funeral Home when she said, “This lady was not only full of love, but she was the first adult (outside the Rodham family) I encountered that really listened to what I had to say.”

Clinton said her friend’s mother had a hard time voting Democratic.

”She and my father were both Republicans, and when my husband ran for office, she had to vote in the Democratic primary,” Clinton said. “And she couldn’t get the word Democrat out of her mouth. She kept saying, `I’m voting for the D party.’”

It’s a good bet the city will be seeing Hillary soon.

Bye, Betsy. A truly special lady.

Betsy Ebeling, Hillary Clinton’s friend since sixth grade at Eugene Field School in Park Ridge, at the Democratic National Convention.
Betsy Ebeling, Hillary Clinton’s friend since sixth grade at Eugene Field School in Park Ridge, at the Democratic National Convention in 2016.
Lynn Sweet/Sun-Times