Betty White's Longtime Friend Tom Sullivan Pens Heartfelt Tribute on Her Instagram: 'A National Treasure'

Tom Sullivan, a singer and author who knew Betty White for 54 years, called her "singularly the most remarkable person we have ever known"

betty white
Photo: betty white/instagram

Betty White continues to receive heartfelt tributes and fond farewells from friends, fans and loved ones since her death at the age of 99 on New Year's Eve.

On Thursday, White's longtime friend and collaborator Tom Sullivan posted a lengthy and emotional tribute to the late cultural icon, on her own Instagram page, which highlighted their special connection.

The post detailed how White helped Sullivan — a singer and actor get his start in show business, and even urged him to start dating his wife of "53 glorious years."

Alongside a picture of the Golden Girls alum with his family, Sullivan, 74, wrote that "we are right to recognize her as a national treasure. With her list of honors gathered over an eight decade career, her resume of life is certainly complete. For the Sullivan family however, her impact is so profoundly intimate that I am not sure the hole in our hearts can ever be repaired."

Sullivan, who has been blind since birth and got his start as a singer, went on to say that his relationship with White began 54 years ago when he met her and her husband Allen Ludden while singing in a small club on Cape Cod, where White and Ludden were performing in a play.

"Following their performances they would come into my little club for drinks and clam chowder and I had the pleasure of singing their favorite songs, joining them for drinks, and like a sponge, absorbing their show business wisdom," he wrote.

"At that point in my early life I had never been exposed to a couple who were so very completely and truly in love, and I clearly took note of the feeling of intimacy that flowed between these two special people. So I guess it seemed natural to Betty to spread that kind of happiness into the heart of young Tom Sullivan," he continued.

"That's right, it was Betty who picked Patty Steffen out of the crowd of young women who came to hear me sing and I remember exactly what she said. 'Tom, if you could see the way this girl's eyes look at you, you'd never date anyone else.' She certainly was right, Patty and I have been married for 53 glorious years. And, that was just the beginning of Betty's role in our lives."

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He went on to say "it was Betty and Allen who opened the doors to my show business career," adding that "Betty was even more excited than I was about my performance" the first time he appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.

Sullivan then recounted a story about how, after ten years, his first guide dog Dinah grew too old to perform her duties as he traveled around the country as a correspondent for ABC's Good Morning America.

"Dinah could not cope with her change in responsibility. She literally tried to commit suicide… Hiding under the bed, not willing to eat, not even willing to go outside and relieve herself," he explained.

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"Betty has often said that she still can't believe what became the next chapter in our relationship," he continued, going on to describe how the television legend suggested that the golden retriever come live with her to "rehabilitate," as she had recently lost her husband.

"Well, Betty didn't just rehabilitate a golden retriever, she made Dinah a star. The big dog not only became Betty's constant companion at many of her TV shows, but also became a member in good standing of Betty's animal family."

"Over the last 20 years, Betty has annually funded the training of a guide dog in memory of Dinah and in my name," he added.

White and Sullivan would go on to co-author a book about Dinah, titled The Leading Lady: Dinah's Story, published in 1991. They would pen two additional books together in 2008 and 2009.

Sullivan's tribute also detailed White's close and personal relationship with his children, as well as her notable and selfless work with animal rights organizations.

"The scope of her interests and her never ending intellectual curiosity allowed her to remain completely involved in every aspect of her life right up to her passing on this most sad New Year's Eve," he wrote toward the end of the tribute.

"As I noted, the Sullivans will never adequately fill the hole in our hearts, but the legacy of the lessons and humanity that Betty has left us with will serve us well until we join her on the next plane."

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