Betty Mae Thomas Smith, born on May 15, 1932 to Ethelyn McRae Thomas and Sidney Thomas in Los Angeles, California, died on Jan. 15 2022.
Betty was the second of four children and the only girl, a position she loved. She adored her three brothers, Sidney, David, and Herbert. Betty was raised in Los Angeles, California, and no matter where life took her, she remained a California Girl, zipping around in her convertibles and red, sporty cars, and wearing oversized sunglasses. Her fondest memories of her youth were of spending time with her friends, racing up and down Sunset Blvd., dancing all night, and tip toeing into the house as the sun came up.
Betty graduated from Manual Arts High School in 1952. She received her Bachelor of Arts in education from the California State University, Los Angeles and a master’s degree in education from Antioch College in Washington, DC, in 1973.
Betty met her husband John at a party in Los Angeles. Betty often reminisced about she and John attending college together, describing how John would go home on the V Streetcar and she would pass him in her car and honk and wave. Betty and John married on August 29, 1959. They became active members of First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles and eventually purchased a home in Pasadena.
In 1971, Betty and her family moved to Maryland. Betty taught elementary school in both Los Angeles and Maryland. She never grew tired of teaching. After 25 years, she retired from Montgomery County Public Schools though she continued to substitute teach for many more years. Betty worked tirelessly as a Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) union representative and traveled the country representing MCEA and the Maryland State Teachers’ Association.
Betty was the proud grandmother of three boys, Jake, Will, and Mack, who she called her “dumplings.” Not a day went by where she did not talk about their accomplishments and the immeasurable joy they brought her. She loved attending their school events and hockey and lacrosse games, though she was quick to tell anyone who listened that she did not understand either sport.
The daughter of immigrants, Ethelyn from Jamaica and Sidney from Panama, Betty always appreciated traveling, spending time with people from all over the world, and learning about different countries, cultures, and traditions. As a teacher, she incorporated her love of different cultures with her love of teaching, focusing on the beauty of diversity and creating an annual international festival at Beall Elementary School where she taught for more than 20 years.
Betty had great style and a terrific eye. She had a love of handcrafted jewelry, the arts, music, fashion, and politics. She enjoyed attending craft shows, admiring architecture, going to the theater, and binge-watching MSNBC. Betty was a proud member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.
Betty is survived by her husband of 62 years, John William Smith; son Erik Sydney Smith of West Palm Beach; daughter, Karla Smith Cohen and husband David of Bethesda; grandsons, Jake, Will, and Mack Cohen of Bethesda; and brothers, David Thomas and wife Rowena of Laurel and Herbert Thomas of Los Angeles.
She also leaves behind her nephews and nieces, Mark Thomas of Los Angeles; Ghanya Thomas of Berkeley; Ife Thomas of Seattle; Adrion Thomas of Los Angeles; Jordan Thomas of Atlanta; several great nieces and nephews; and many dear friends who were constants in her life until the end. Betty was predeceased by her beloved mother, Ethelyn and father, Sidney, as well as her older brother, Sidney.
A celebration of Betty’s life will be held at Cedar Lane Unitarian Church in Bethesda, MD on June 4, 2022 at 11 a.m. The service will also be available virtually. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made in Betty’s name to the Planned Parenthood Action Fund or the National Education Association Foundation.