Betty Williams, Eastern High School principal, dies

Betty I. Williams, a retired Eastern High School principal recalled for her insistence on proper English and sentence structure, died of cancer Oct. 29 at her Ashburton home. She was 94.

“She demanded a student’s best, and she would find a way to reach their hidden confidence,” said her goddaughter, Terri Parker of Baltimore. “She loved to tell a story, demand correctness and offer her wisdom.”

Born Betty Iglehart Williams in New York City, she was the daughter of Iglehart Williams and his wife, Mary. She was reared by her grandparents, the Rev. William Carpenter and Eliza Mary. She lived for many years in the 3100 block of Barclay Street in Waverly.

Miss Williams, in a memoir, recalled her childhood neighborhood: “On Sundays there were walks through Wyman Park to the Baltimore Museum of Art,” where she said African Americans were allowed to visit.

“Neighbors sat on porches while the Orioles game blared, so that they could cheer with fans attending Memorial Stadium on 33rd Street,” she wrote.

She was a 1941 graduate of Dunbar High School and obtained a bachelor of arts degree from Morgan State University. She had a master’s degree in education from the Johns Hopkins University. She also studied at Columbia University amd Howard University.

She began her career in education in 1950 as an English teacher at the Dunbar Evening School. She later taught at Booker T. Washington Junior High and Lemmel Junior High, Northwestern High School and Eastern High School. Over the years she held posts including English department head, special assistant and assistant principal.

She served as Eastern High School’s principal from 1970 to 1976.

“I had a reputation for being a disciplinarian,” she said in a 1977 article in The Baltimore Sun. “I knew how to pass out rewards for doing right and a whacked ‘em with penalties for doing wrong.”

She said she learned to relax her style at the school.

“I established an open-door policy for the principal’s office,” she said in The Sun article. “We started coaching classes and investigated lateness and absence. We created clubs and committees for student involvement. We had more assemblies and we got more staff involved.”

She was later named an assistant to the regional superintendent, keeping the post until her 1982 retirement from the school system. She then joined the Morgan State faculty, teaching and working in the school’s Reserve Officers Training Corps office.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke appointed Miss Williams to the Baltimore Commission on Aging, where she later received its Retirement Education Award.

“Former students greeted her constantly with gratitude,” said her goddaughter. “They laughed at tales of her upper hand at keeping the hallway traffic moving orderly and the school grounds safe.”

“She was my junior high school English teacher,” said Milton A. Dugger Jr. of Baltimore. “She taught us to be exact when speaking.”

Mr. Dugger recalled one occasion when Miss Williams heard some students had skipped school and gone to the movies. “She got wind of it, had their management turn on the lights at the theater, and then she escorted the students back to school. She could be tenacious.”

Her goddaughter said Miss Williams also adhered to the standards of etiquette and was a stylish dresser.

She attended Baltimore Opera Company performances. She was a Center Stage subscriber and enjoyed an annual trip to the Radio City Christmas Spectacular.

She belonged to the Pins and Needles Knitting Club and the For-Win-Ash Garden Club. She collected teapots, frogs, turtles and music boxes.

“For her 94th birthday, she traveled to the Dominican Republic with the Black Ski Club,” said her goddaughter. “Her travel companions surprised her with a birthday cake and the young men lined up to dance with the beautiful lady.”

She had walked the Great Wall of China among her many trips.

She read the Sunday New York Times newspaper and solved its crossword puzzle. She was a member and officer of the DuBois Circle, a women’s group founded in 1906, where notable speakers address current issues.

She was honored at the Johns Hopkins Club for 45 years of membership. She also enjoyed trips to the lily pond on the Hopkins Homewood campus.

Miss Williams was a member of Waters African Methodist Episcopal Church. She was a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, and served meals at Our Daily Bread for seven years.

Until her early nineties she prepared an eight-course Christmas dinner for numerous guests. She also prepared black heritage favorites, including pigs’ feet served with collards and potato salad.

“Betty lived a full life with no regrets,” said her goddaughter.

Miss Williams requested that no memorial or funeral service be held.

In addition to goddaughter, survivors include other godchildren Dr. Marsha Brown and H. Lynn Harris Jones; and Erin B. Rigsby and Morgan Rigsby, who regarded her as their grandmother. They reside in Baltimore.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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