Betsye Petersen Sargent


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Salem, MA - Betsye Petersen Sargent, 79, passed away peacefully on December 11, 2018. Born in Marblehead to F. Donald Petersen and Ann (Clothey) Petersen, Betsye is the granddaughter of the accomplished maritime artist, Thomas Ferrier Petersen. She leaves her beloved son, Will Sargent and his wife Courtney of Southborough, and grandchildren, Avery and Brody, in addition to all of the students who have been guided to success by Betsye over her 55 years as a gifted educator.
Betsye often said that her last and greatest adventure would take her to the stars where she will continue to shine down on us all. She was a star long before her last adventure. Marblehead, Cambridge, and Salem were her homes over the years. Betsye was a renaissance woman. She lived in Paris to study art and then found her way to Greece to paint and draw. She soon realized her passion for understanding the great potential of the artistic process in education. As a Wheaton College graduate, Betsye obtained an internship at Shady Hill School and then moved to the Fayerweather Street School. She earned a Master’s degree from Wheelock College and became a principal and director of the gifted education program at the Salem Public Schools. Believing that all students should be educated with the same opportunities as the students in her gifted program in an individualized, multi-age, hands-on, experiential environment, Betsye joined with Barbara McFall and settled into her life's calling as co-founder and co-head of The Phoenix School in Salem in 1981 until her retirement in August, 2018.
Betsye was a remarkable woman of strength and an educational visionary whose life on earth will ripple infinitely. Four axioms that Betsye lived by and passed on to all: never stop trying new things and explore out of the box; don’t be fearful of failing and trying again; ask for help when needed; and give back to one’s local, national, and global communities. She contributed to her community as a member of The Rotary Club of Salem, Salem Partnership, Salem YMCA Board of Directors, and North Shore Medical Center’s Patient Family Advisory Council. She established a community service club run by Phoenix students. Her dedicated support of conservation efforts for elephants and rhinos, in addition to her commitment to rescuing senior golden retrievers, were hallmarks of Betsye’s philanthropic priorities.
Betsye undoubtedly lived a full and meaningful life, and her bright light will shine forever through those who have been touched by her wisdom and teaching. Her memory can be honored by a donation to The Phoenix School, Salem, MA (
A Celebration of Life service is being scheduled in Salem for early 2019.
Published on December 15, 2018
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