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Bette Nesmith Graham
Bette Nesmith Graham.jpg
Bette Nesmith Graham, with son Michael
Born
Bette Clair McMurray

(1924-03-23)March 23, 1924
Died May 12, 1980(1980-05-12) (aged 56)
Education High school graduate
Known for Invention of Liquid Paper
Spouse(s)
Warren Audrey Nesmith (1919-1984) (m. 1942–1946)

Robert Graham (m. 1962–1975)
Children Michael Nesmith
Parent(s) Jesse McMurray
Christine Duval McMurray

Bette Nesmith Graham (March 23, 1924 – May 12, 1980) was an American typist, commercial artist, and the inventor of the correction fluid Liquid Paper. She was the mother of musician and producer Michael Nesmith of The Monkees.

Biography

Graham was born Bette Clair McMurray, in Dallas, Texas, to Jesse McMurray, an automotive supply company manager, and Christine Duval. She was raised in San Antonio and graduated from Alamo Heights High School. She married Warren Audrey Nesmith (1919–1984) before he left to fight in World War II. While he was overseas she had a child (Robert Michael Nesmith, born December 30, 1942). After Warren Nesmith returned home, they divorced (1946). Her father died in the early 1950s, leaving some property in Dallas to Bette. She, her mother, Michael, and her sister Yvonne moved there. To support herself as a single mother, she worked as a secretary at Texas Bank and Trust. She eventually attained the position of the executive secretary, the highest position open at that time to women in the industry.

It was difficult to erase mistakes made by early electric typewriters, which caused problems. To make extra money, she used her talent painting holiday windows at the bank. She realized as she said, "with lettering, an artist never corrects by erasing, but always paints over the error. So I decided to use what artists use. I put some tempera water-based paint in a bottle and took my watercolor brush to the office. I used it to correct my mistakes."

Graham secretly used her white correction paint for five years, making some improvements with help from her son's chemistry teacher at Thomas Jefferson High School in Dallas. Some bosses admonished her for using it, but coworkers frequently sought her "paint out". She eventually began marketing her typewriter correction fluid as "Mistake Out" in 1956. The name was later changed to Liquid Paper when she began her own company.

Mistake Out started the 1960s operating at a small loss, with Nesmith's home doubling as company headquarters. As the product became an indispensable tool of the secretarial trade, Nesmith relocated production and shipping from her kitchen to a 10 foot-by-26 foot portable metal structure in her backyard, where packaging, shipping, and production were centered.

Bette Nesmith married Robert Graham in 1962; he joined her in running the company. They divorced in 1975.

She sold Liquid Paper to the Gillette Corporation for USD $47.5 million in 1979 (worth $174.73M in 2021). At the time, her company employed 200 people and made 25 million bottles of Liquid Paper per year.

Bette Nesmith died on May 12, 1980, at the age of 56, in Richardson, Texas after suffering a stroke.

Management style

From the start, Graham ran her company with a unique combination of spirituality, egalitarianism, and pragmatism. Raised a Baptist, Graham converted to Christian Science in 1942, and this faith inspired the development of her corporate "Statement of Policy". Part-code of ethics, part-business philosophy, it covered everything from her belief in a "Supreme Being" to a focus on decentralized decision making and an emphasis on product quality over the pursuit of profit. She also believed that women could bring a more nurturing and humanistic quality to the male world of business, and provided a greenbelt with a fish pond, an employee library, and a childcare center in her new company headquarters in 1975.

Legacy

Her only son, a musician Michael Nesmith (best known as a member of The Monkees), inherited half of his mother's estate of over $50 million. A portion financed the Gihon Foundation which established the Council on Ideas, a think tank with a retreat center located north of Santa Fe, New Mexico active from 1990 to 2000 and devoted to exploring world problems. Additionally, a portion of Graham's estate financed Betty Clair McMurray Foundation, which focuses on supporting projects such as the exhibit Texas Women, A Celebration of History, career guidance for unwed mothers, shelter and counseling for battered women, and college scholarships for mature women. In 2018 The New York Times published a belated obituary for her.

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