J. D. Bethea, track star who became BTU head


John D. Bethea, a former president of the Baltimore Teachers Union (BTU) who had been a track star during his high school and college years, died Sunday after a heart attack at his home in Forest Park. He was 51.

He had taught for 22 years, at Lafayette Elementary School, then at Liberty Elementary School and finally at Hilton Elementary School.

He was president of the BTU from 1974 through 1979. In 1976, the union and its rival, the Public School Teachers Association (PSTA), were decertified as bargaining agents for city school teachers as a result of a 1974 strike.

In 1978, the BTU won a collective bargaining election, defeating the PSTA by a vote of 4,456-3,021. The next year, Mr. Bethea signed the union's new contract with the school board.

Irene Dandridge, who took over as BTU president in 1980, described Mr. Bethea yesterday as a likable, bright person who was very quiet. "He was the only union leader I've ever met who didn't like to talk, particularly publicly," she said.

A Baltimore native, Mr. Bethea was a 1960 graduate of City College and a 1965 graduate of Morgan State University.

In 1959, he won the Maryland Scholastic Association hurdles championship and later won Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association and Intercollegiate Association of Amateur Athletes of America championships.

He set South Atlantic Amateur Athletic Union records and was the high hurdles winner at the 1964 Penn Relays. He was fourth in the finals of the 1964 Olympic trials.

A sprinter as well as a hurdler, he also competed in the 100- and 220-yard dashes.

He was a member of the Morgan State Athletic Hall of Fame and a former president of the university's Varsity "M" Club.

At St. Bernardine's Roman Catholic Church, he was a tenor in the choir, which he had served as president.

He also sang with the choir in the Vatican when it made a 1989 trip to Rome.

He was a former member of the House of God Church and a former trustee of St. John's African Methodist Episcopal Church.

He was a member of the Baltimore Alliance of Black Educators and was active in the Science Is for Everyone Program of the Baltimore City Community College and St. Bernardine's Church. The program encourages an interest in science among African-American youths.

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 7:30 p.m. today at St. Bernardine's Church, Edmondson Avenue and Mount Holly Street.

He is survived by a daughter, Melanie Renee Bethea of Upper Marlboro; two sisters, Anna Bruce and Barbara Bethea, both of Baltimore; and a stepbrother, Lloyd Stalling of Daytona Beach, Fla.

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