Automotive Fleet belatedly learned that Elizabeth J. “Bette” Natoli, one of the first women fleet managers, passed away after a long illness on July 11, 2020 at Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis, Mass. She was 90.
Born on Sept. 7, 1929, Natoli was a 1947 graduate of Norwich High School, then attended Hartwick College in Oneonta, NY. She was unable to finish her studies at Hartwick due the unexpected death of her father.
In 1949, Natoli (nee Jackson), at the age of 20 years old, was hired at the Norwich Pharmaceuticals Co., famous for its Pepto-Bismol product. She worked there her entire working life until retirement. Natoli was one of the first female managers at the pharmaceutical company. She was the head of the company’s fleet department that managed the nationally dispersed vehicle sales fleet.
Natoli oversaw vehicle purchases and remarketing, sales, maintenance, and salesforce reimbursement. As fleet manager, she reported directly to Treasurer of Norwich Pharmaceuticals. She was also one of the first female members of the management board of Norwich Pharmaceuticals, which was later acquired by Procter & Gamble (P&G) in 1982.
As an industry trailblazer, Natoli helped pioneer fleet management as a career for women, which previously was a 100% male-dominated profession. Natoli, along with Marie Loehrner of Yale & Towne and Betty Quinlen (company unknown), were the only women members of The Round Table Group, which was the precursor organization to the NAFA Fleet Management Association.
In the early 1950s, fleet managers in the New York/mid-Atlantic area decided to formalize their informal business relationships by forming what became known as The Round Table Group. To keep meetings manageable, membership was restricted to 20 fleet managers to facilitate the free exchange of ideas about fleet-related operating problems and solutions. The meetings were held monthly with each member taking turns at hosting these full-day meetings.
The Round Table group played an important role in the early development of the fleet management profession and was the seed from which NAFA emerged. Many of the methods used in fleet management today were developed by The Round Table Group.
NAFA was founded in 1957 and Natoli was one of the first female fleet manager members of the association. Later in her career Natoli was one of the co-founders of the newly formed Empire State Chapter of NAFA in the 1970s serving as its first-ever chairperson.
On Jan. 22, 1966, she married her husband Thomas J. Natoli, who survives her. Prior to retirement, her husband worked as a civil engineer for Chenango County, NY, whose county seat is Norwich, NY.
Natoli was also active in the First Baptist Church of Norwich where she taught Sunday school and served on the church’s board of directors. Later in life, she was a communicant of St. Bartholomew’s Church. In addition, Natoli was active in the Republican Party serving as the treasurer and secretary of local Republican organizations. In retirement, Natoli enjoyed spending time at her homes in Norwich, NY, and in Cape Cod, Massachusetts.