BETTY ANN KNUDSEN (1926 – 2012)
Betty Ann Knudsen was born October 10, 1926 in Kingsport Tennessee. She was the daughter of Lester Bolton Leonard and Nelle Virginia Lloyd. Betty Ann spent her early years in Tennessee and Georgia, living in Savannah and Atlanta. She graduated from North Fulton High School in Atlanta and wanted to study architecture at Georgia Tech in Atlanta but was refused admittance because she was a woman. (Georgia Tech did not open enrollment to all university programs to women until 1968.) She attended the University of Georgia and earned an AB Degree in Psychology, with highest honors. She was inducted into a number of honorary societies including Phi Beta Kappa, Phi Kappa Phi, Psi Chi, and Alpha Lambda Delta.
Betty Ann met her husband of almost 60 years, John Peter “Pete” Knudsen in Atlanta and they were married in August of 1949. After graduate school took the couple to Missouri, Florida and Chapel Hill, they moved to Decatur, Alabama when Pete became employed by the Chemstrand Corporation.
Betty Ann first became involved in community service as President of the PTA at E.C. Brooks Elementary School, when she joined the School Study Committee of the League of Women Voters of Wake County. For eight years she supported the League’s effort to merge the Wake County and Raleigh City School Systems. When Betty Ann was President of the League, merger was finally accomplished. The League was instrumental in establishing “Goals for Raleigh” a citizen’s comprehensive planning process. Some of the goals that were adopted were the establishment of the Greenway System, the CAT transportation system and the community use of schools after hours, all of which came to fruition during her time of public service. Betty Ann wrote the application for which Raleigh won the “All American City” award in 1976.
In 1976, Betty Ann ran for and was elected to the Wake County Board of Commissioners. In 1978 she became the first woman to chair the Board of Commissioners. As a commissioner she worked to consolidate the independent municipal libraries into one county-wide library system and modernized the administrative practices of the Commission Board.
In 1985, Betty Ann ran for the office of NC Secretary of State. Although she was unsuccessful, she inspired other women to seek higher office and in 1996 she supported Elaine Marshall who became the first female Secretary of State in North Carolina.
Betty Ann served on many governmental boards and commissions. She was a member of the Raleigh Civic Center Authority, the Greater Raleigh Area Commission, the Raleigh Economic Development Round Table, the Wake County Board of Health, Wake County Opportunities. She was chair of Triangle J Council of Governments’ Hazardous and Solid Waste and Natural Resources Committees, a member of the NC Property Tax Commission, the NC Board of Science and Technology and the Governor’s Waste Management Task Force. In addition to these positions Betty Ann was a member of the NC Center for Public Policy Research Board and was a founder of Women in NACO for the National Association of Counties.
Betty Ann was also very active in many women’s organizations. She served as President of the Women’s Forum of North Carolina and in that position was a prime mover in the establishment of the NC Women’s Resource Center and the NC Women’s Legislative Agenda, which determined legislative issues for which women lobbied the General Assembly.
For many years Betty Ann was active in Democratic Party politics at the precinct, county, and state levels. She was the Secretary of the NC Democratic Party. What she learned in her political efforts she readily shared with others. Betty Ann was skilled at recruiting women, training them, and getting them elected to public office. She was the catalyst for Isabella Cannon’s run for Mayor of Raleigh. This was the first attempt at public office by the 73-year-old Cannon who became the first female mayor of a capital city in the United States.
Betty Ann was a founding member of the board of Lillian’s List, an organization to elect pro-choice, Democratic women to the NC General Assembly. She was also a founding resource and teacher for the NC Center for Women in Public Service, a bipartisan program that prepares women to serve in appointed and elected positions.
Using her architectural talents, Betty Ann designed and had constructed a grand “tree house” in the backyard of her North Raleigh home. Many an important governmental or political decision was debated there, and an invitation to the “tree house” was always an honor to those privileged to be in that special place.
In 1989 Betty Ann and Pete left Raleigh for the rain forest of Costa Rica where they lived for over 6 years training people to raise tropical butterflies. Betty Ann managed the gift shop at the nature lodge near their house and sold crafts mostly made by the native women. She was responsible for designing, securing funding for, and the construction of a local library and community center for the education of the area’s women and children.
When she returned, Betty Ann published “How Are Butterflies Like Chickens?” – a children’s riddle book about butterflies. For many years, she was “The Butterfly Lady” who took displays of butterfly specimens and her books to elementary schools to teach students about the life cycle of butterflies. The collection she and Pete acquired was donated to the NC Museum of Natural Science in Raleigh. Betty Ann created the “Royal Order of Butterflies” recognizing the achievements of women by giving them the butterfly pins which are proudly worn by a great number of successful and accomplished women.
In recent years, Betty Ann chaired the Wake County Board of Equalization and Review, served on the board of the Executive Service Corps of the Greater Triangle and was a member of the NC State Bar’s Disciplinary Hearing Commission. She regularly volunteered to campaign for and support Democratic candidates.
Betty Ann was recognized as “Tarheel of the Week” by the Raleigh News & Observer in April, 1975. Other awards she received include: Volunteer of the Year, Action City 1976, Community Service Award, Wake County Opportunities, Inc. 1979; Distinguished Service Award, Wake County Democratic Party 1984; Gail Bradley Memorial Award, Women’s Forum of North Carolina 1987; Woman of the Year, Raleigh Business & Professional Women 1987; Distinguished Woman of NC, NC Council of Women’s Organizations 1988; Carpathian Speaking Out Award, NC Equity 1999. She was in the first class of inductees to the Raleigh Hall of Fame in 2005. In 2008 she was awarded the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, North Carolina’s highest civilian honor.
Betty Ann Knudsen died July 27, 2012, at her home in Raleigh, North Carolina. She was 85.