Howard E. BettinsonHoward E. Bettinson

"He finished real strong," Bob Bettinson said of his father, Howard, who died unexpectedly Aug. 16.

In a telephone interview, Bettinson, who 11 years ago took over the Arlington insurance agency his father founded in 1953, said that a week earlier, the 84-year-old had been swimming at Revere Beach and that, following a heart attack this year, he went on a Caribbean cruise.

Bettinson and his brother Mark, in a eulogy, recalled their father's vibrant, giving nature.

"My dad was a bridge," Bob Bettinson said as he told how he helped launch Ted Foster in insurance. With the elder Bettinson's aid, the South Shore businessman built an agency. Now retired, he was stunned to hear of the passing.

In the eulogy, Mark said that "ever since dad moved out of the condo in Burlington and into the Gables in Winchester, about a year ago, his quality of life has been positively upbeat, inspired and precious. Dad has made new friends at the Gables that can’t even be counted on two hands.

"I recently picked him up to go to Panera’s for coffee… 'Oh Mark, let me introduce you to Gene… he’s my new best friend. Gene got into the back seat of me car and dad hopped in to the front. He leaned over to me and said, "He’s taking Joe's place!"

"Dad was apparently dubbed 'the governor' at the Gables, but he had friends in all the high places; Panera’s, Dunkin Donuts, Not Your Average Joe's, St. Marks, Planet Fitness, even the Amtrack Down-easter; recently I dropped him in Woburn for the train to Maine. The ticket machine wouldn’t sell him a ticket; sold out. No problem… he just got on the train; the conductor never asked for the ticket! That was my father. He just kept coming up smelling like roses."

After thanking the three people who were with Howard when he died, Mark said of honoring his father: "Where do I begin? If we tried to make a movie about dad’s life… it might be appropriate to call it… 'The Curious Case of Howard Bettinson,' and I’d cast Howard himself to begin the narrative of the trailer…. 'My name is Howard Bettinson. I was born under curious circumstances. While everyone else was aging, I was getting younger, all along.'"

Born in Arlington, Howard grew up in Waltham, the son of the late Everett and Margaret Bettinson. He was a graduate of Waltham High School. He served in the Navy for one year during World War II, having enlisted one week short of the end of the war.

He went to Northeastern University, where he received his bachelor's degree in accounting. He did his coops in Arlington with John Carderio, in real estate, and Paul Nelson, mortgages.

"Howard's incredibly outgoing personality, sharp mind and concern for his clients made him a truly conscientious small businessman and a great insurance agent," Bob said.

Long a Burlington resident, he served its School Committee from 1958 to 1970. He was a 59-year member of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Burlington. In partnership with his wife, Natalie Mary (Taylor), who died in 2006, the church community was very much a part of his extended family.

He was the father of Caryl and her husband, Dennis Higgins of Sandown, N.H.; Mark of Burlington, Kimberly Cooke and her husband, Bud, of Largo, Fla.; Craig of York, Maine; Robert and his wife, Stacie, of Acton.

He was the brother of Winslow Bettinson, 92, of Braintree, the late Ruth Bettinson and Adele Broderick.

He was the grandfather of Sarah, Andrew and Johanna Higgins, Caitlin Stonis, Taylor, Travis, Todd, Haley, Jordan, Devon, Callahan and Grace Bettinson, as well as the brother-in-law of Donald Taylor and his wife, Gene, of Bolton, and the late Olive D. Taylor.

Funeral was from the Edward V. Sullivan Funeral Home of Burlington on Aug. 20, followed by funeral services at St. Mark's. Interment was private.

Memorials in his name may be made to People Helping People, P.O. Box 343, Burlington, MA 01803.

This story was published Friday, Aug. 24, 2012.