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Bettye Hogg Keller, 91, groundbreaking business executive, dies

Bettye Hogg Keller, a groundbreaking business executive in the gift and decorative services industry who lived on Long Island for 45 years, died Sept. 4 in Georgetown, Texas. She was 91 and died of a heart attack.

Keller was the first American female business executive to enter China after President Richard Nixon's historic 1972 visit, which thawed trade relations between the two countries, her family said. They also credited her with creating outdoor icicle lights, though others also claim to have invented the popular Christmas decoration, according to online reports.

"She always had a good eye for coming up with what was going to be popular with people," said her cousin Bruce Seger, 51, of Melville.

Bettye Gentry was born in 1921 in Evansville, Ind. An only child, she worked as a registered nurse in Indiana, where she met her first husband, George Hogg, who was in the Army and later became a bank vice president. They married in 1941.

They moved to New York to be closer to his family, settling in Babylon. They had a daughter Leanne, who predeceased her mother. On Long Island, Keller left nursing behind and began working as a window decorator at Gertz, a Queens-based department store that also had posts in Hicksville, Bay Shore and Massapequa.

She later climbed the corporate ladder, becoming a vice president of an import/export business and holding the same position at a worldwide gift and accessory firm, where she oversaw dozens of showrooms and supervised a national sales force.

Her work took her around the world, with numerous business trips to India and other countries.

After her husband's death in 1985, she left Babylon, moved to Chicago and continued to travel extensively. Her daughter died in 1998 on a business trip to China and Keller retired soon after that.

She moved to Texas, where she met her second husband, Joe Keller, an oil industry executive. They lived in Texas and Ajijic, Mexico.

In addition to her husband and cousin, Keller is survived by a nephew, James Hogg of Fort Meyers, Fla., and cousin Teresa Seger of Commack.

Two memorial services were held in Texas. She was cremated.

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