Elizabeth “Betty” Pfriem, Bridgeport’s philanthropic rose who carried herself with grace whether publisher of the Bridgeport Post-Telegram newspapers, the only female Barnum Festival ringmaster or quiet community generosity for decades, passed away Saturday night.
When you talk about business impact and philanthropic influence in Bridgeport, Pfriem’s legacy is to be admired with the likes of P.T. Barnum and industrialist Frank D’Addario. She went about her business quietly yet her impact was wide and loud that benefited school kids, neighborhoods, social service organizations, medical facilities and the Barnum Festival for which she served as ringmaster, the only woman to occupy that role in its 70-year history.
“For me, it’s all about the children,” she’d say. “That’s what matters to me most.” And she serenaded children with generosity without waving pompoms. If there was a children’s event in the city, and health allowed in recent years, she made herself available.
Intensely private, Betty Pfriem allowed very few into her inner circle. If she did you were considered a privileged, entrusted few.
She assumed the role of publisher of the Bridgeport Post-Telegram newspapers, predecessors of the Connecticut Post, following the death of her husband John Pfriem in 1983. As publisher of the newspapers in 1986 she served as Barnum Festival ringmaster, leveraging the full force of the publications well before the era of the internet and social media, in the cause of saluting impresario Barnum’s vast contributions to the city such as Seaside Park, library system, industrial job creation and housing stock.
The news world was a different place when Betty Pfriem learned the newspaper business. Underwood typewriters, carbon paper, scary editors out of the Stone Age, composing room gorillas screaming for copy, a conveyor belt that would eat your hand if not careful. That’s the world I knew when I worked there as a young reporter.
She remembered the young reporters who worked during her era.
In June 1988, with Betty Pfriem holding a major ownership interest, the newspapers sold for a reported $210 million to Thomson Newspapers. She shared her fortune with the community. A few years after the sale the newspapers were consolidated into the Connecticut Post, now currently owned by Hearst Media.
For many years she lived along the waterfront of Bridgeport’s Black Rock neighborhood, a house she sold to David Carson, now the retired chief executive of People’s Bank, who sold it to then-Congressman Christopher Shays who sold it to David Walker, former U.S. Comptroller General.
Funeral arrangements have not been announced but they are expected to be low key, just as Betty Pfriem lived.