Clintons make low-key visit to Arlington Heights to say goodbye to old friend Betsy Ebeling

  • Colin Ebeling with "Aunt Hillary" Clinton, who was a best friend of Colin's mother, Betsy Eberling.

    Colin Ebeling with "Aunt Hillary" Clinton, who was a best friend of Colin's mother, Betsy Eberling. Courtesy of Colin Ebeling, 2016

 
Updated 8/12/2019 1:00 PM

They grew up five blocks apart in Park Ridge, where they forged their friendship at Eugene Field School.

Betsy Johnson and Hillary Rodham would pursue different paths, Betsy Ebeling settling in Arlington Heights and Hillary Clinton ascending to the world stage as first lady, senator, secretary of state and presidential nominee.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

But their friendship survived the vicissitudes of distance and fortune.

In 1995, Clinton delivered the commencement address at Hersey High School, where Ebeling's son was graduating.

For her part, Ebeling served as matron of honor at the Clintons' wedding and as a delegate at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, where she announced that her friend had captured Illinois' delegates.

On Saturday at the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre ballroom in Arlington Heights, Clinton came through for her friend one last time. Hillary and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, were among friends, family and dignitaries, including Gov. J.B. Pritzker, saying goodbye to Ebeling, who died of breast cancer July 28 at age 72.

After staying overnight at a hotel, the Clintons visited Sunday with the Ebeling family, including Betsy's husband, Tom, in Arlington Heights before heading to New York.

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The Metropolis gathering was a private, invitation-only event, attended by a standing-room-only crowd of roughly 400, said one of the guests, Mount Prospect resident Brian McPartlin, who had known Ebeling since he worked in President Clinton's administration as associate director of presidential advance.

"They probably could have filled Soldier Field, but they wanted it to be more intimate, close family and friends," he said.

He said this would have been the weekend for the annual slumber party Ebeling held for her longtime friends and which Hillary Clinton regularly attended.

Betsy Ebeling
Betsy Ebeling - Courtesy of Colin Ebeling

"The service was very moving," McPartlin said. "It was really a celebration of this woman's life. Aside from being Hillary Clinton's best friend, she has had a great career as a former teacher and was a champion of human rights. She worked for the Illinois Department of Human Rights. She worked hard on behalf of LGBTQ (issues)."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Among those delivering eulogies was Ebeling's son, Colin.

"My mom set a very high bar in everything she did and was. And I can only hope to get about halfway there when it comes to all her winning attributes," he said. "For example, I can only hope to be half the friend she was. Or half the parent she was. Half the spouse. The co-worker The gardener. The gift-giver. The maker of appetizers. The blanket-supplier. The avid Blackhawks fan. The herder of cats. The singer. The Amazon Prime member. The reader. The dog lover. The shoulder to cry on.

"But if there's one thing that keeps me from throwing in the towel when the whole world seems like a giant Dumpster fire, it's that my mom's kindness didn't die with her."

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton poses for pictures with lifelong friend Betsy Ebeling of Arlington Heights, Tom Ebeling and former President Bill Clinton.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton poses for pictures with lifelong friend Betsy Ebeling of Arlington Heights, Tom Ebeling and former President Bill Clinton. - courtesy of Betsy Ebeling

After the ceremony at the Metropolis, a smaller group adjourned to Tuscany in Wheeling for a private reception, McPartlin said.

McPartlin said Secret Service, state police and Arlington Heights police provided protection.

"They (the Clintons) have Secret Service protection, which means they get normally a lead police car, their limo and a secondary staff vehicle, and one tail car," he said. He said the only road that was closed was Vail Avenue, in front of the Metropolis.

Colin Ebeling, who lives in Los Angeles, said the memorial service was inspirational for everyone who attended.

"One of the Secret Service agents yesterday pulled me aside and said, 'I just want to say on behalf of the Secret Service that we loved your mom.' And that really touched me," Ebeling said.

Betsy and Tom Ebeling visited Bill and Hillary Clinton at the Arkansas governor's mansion in the early 1980s.
Betsy and Tom Ebeling visited Bill and Hillary Clinton at the Arkansas governor's mansion in the early 1980s. - File photo

Ebeling said the Clintons stopped by Sunday morning to say goodbye on their way to the airport.

"They spent about an hour with us in the family room. They are the most lovely and engaging people. We talked about grandchildren and family and my mother and politics.

"You hear that they're coming over and you want to make sure the house is nice and clean. You see the Secret Service start to show up, and it seems like it's going to be a big thing. But then, once they come in and sit down, they're old friends and they're kind and they loved my mother. We had a lovely visit."

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