Betty Bernhard, a theater professor at Pomona College known for her outspoken nature, warmth and commitment to her work, died at home on Sunday, March 21, 2015.
Bernhard served as a professor and director at Pomona for over 30 years, during which she directed 30 full-length plays and musicals. She was granted the Founding Mother of Asian Theatre Scholarship by the Association of Asian Performance this month and had directed four award-winning documentaries throughout her career.
“We will always remember Betty for her strength and sense of purpose, her good will and generosity of spirit, and her passionate love for the art form that we all share,” professor James Taylor, chair of Pomona’s Department of Theatre and Dance, wrote in a March 23 statement to the college community.
Laurie Cameron, a professor of theater and dance at Pomona, wrote in an email to TSL that “Betty was a passionate colleague who had a profound impact on the life of our department. She saw Theatre as a powerful way of bringing the joys and struggles of humanity into focus.”
Taylor’s email further described Bernhard as an “enthusiastic and respectful collaborator, a warm and caring person and a good friend.”
In his statement to the Pomona community, Taylor said that Bernhard channeled her passion into her productions at Pomona, which included renditions of the Indian Sanskrit dramas Little Clay Cart and Shakuntala. She produced these in collaboration with colleagues Kailash Pandya and Kottakall Sasidharan Nair in 1995 and 2004, respectively. Most recently, last month she directed Pomona’s production of In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play), written by MacArthur Fellowship-winning playwright Sarah Ruhl.
Cameron also emphasized the impact of Bernhard’s production of the Indian Sanskrit plays, writing that Bernhard “will surely be remembered by all of us at Pomona and her friends and colleagues worldwide for her spectacular work in India, which enlightened all of us.”
Harrison Goodall PO ‘16, one of Bernhard’s former students, echoed the positive sentiments in an email to TSL.
“Betty was an incredibly brave woman. She dedicated her whole life to giving a voice to people of underrepresented groups, and was never afraid to defend her cause,” Goodall wrote. “She was never afraid to go against the norm, or to push back against people standing in her way. She was a great mentor and friend, but more importantly, she was a pioneer.”
Goodall recalled an experience when he “was feeling self conscious,” and Bernhard’s wise words and bold nature inspired him: “Betty told me, ‘Be brave. Jump in. What do you have to lose? Now is the time.’”
He wrote that “this quote encapsulates the trust and confidence Betty had in her students, as well as the way she lived her life. Betty was an incredibly brave woman.”
Bernhard is survived by her daughter, Maria Bernhard, two grandsons, Rain and Beckett and her sister, Debbie.