Elizabeth Jane
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Wenham - Betty Johnson, 96, died of natural causes October 12, 2019, at her home in Wenham, Mass., where she lived for 70 years.
Born Elizabeth Jane Smith in Boston, February 24, 1923, Betty was the oldest child of Jane Carmichael and Francis W.K. Smith, Boston lawyer and member of the Mass. legislature. The defining moment of Betty's early life was her father's sudden death in a car accident on New Year's Day 1932, which left her mother a widow with three children, ages eight, six, and four. At the height of the Depression, Jane managed to return to work at the Middlesex Registry of Deeds in Cambridge and kept the family going, giving Betty what she said was a lifelong lesson in "always looking on the bright side."
Betty attended Somerville public schools, Northfield School for Girls (class of 1940) and Middlebury College (class of 1944). At the Middlebury Soph Hop on Thanksgiving eve 1940 she first danced with Robert Lee (Bob) Johnson (class of 1941), future Navy flier, whom she married in Jacksonville, Fla., October 3, 1942. She later told her children Bob was the best dancer and smartest man she ever met, adding, when Bob was out of earshot, "Whatever he didn't know, I did."
In 1949 Betty and Bob moved into the big white house, formerly The Big Chimney Inn, at 167 Main Street, Wenham, where, with brief intervals in N.J. and Calif., they lived the rest of their lives, raising an astonishing variety of trees, plants, fruits, flowers, vegetables, many generations of cats and kittens and five children. Bob died in 2010 at ninety.
Betty was a Wenham town force. She volunteered for the Wenham Village Improvement Society and sold local gourmet foods at the Wenham Tea House. She taught Sunday School, played piano for assemblies and starred in community theater. Her Halloween visits to schools in full witch costume, in which she also terrified unsuspecting trick-or-treaters at her home, gave local children nightmares that lasted into adulthood.
Betty joined the Hamilton Wenham Garden Club in 1971 and was a member ever since, serving as president 1975-77. She was also a certified Flower Show Judge, adjudicating floral contests statewide and lecturing to appreciative crowds. Her flowers, squash, pumpkins, jams and jellies won prizes at the Topsfield Fair. Her house and garden starred on WGBH-TV's Victory Garden in 1985 and was featured in Better Homes & Gardens. Until 2008, she wrote the "Dear Dahlia" advice column for Mayflower, The Newsletter of the Garden Club Federation of Massachusetts. A bench in her name is in the Hamilton Wenham Garden Club Garden for the Community at Pingree Park.
Her survivors include her five children, Dr. Nancy Lee Harris of Boston, and Peter, Emily, David and Priscilla Johnson, of New York City, W. Hartford, Conn., Hamilton and Beverly; six grandchildren; 12 great-grandchildren; and nieces and nephews as various as flowers.

As requested by the family, funeral services will be held privately. Arrangements by the Campbell Funeral Home, 525 Cabot Street, Beverly. Contributions in Betty's name to the Hamilton Wenham Garden Club, P.O. Box 2035, South Hamilton MA 01982. Information, directions, condolences at www.campbellfuneral.com.
Published on October 19, 2019


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Mike & Karen Clarke
Oct 20, 2019
Dave and family ,she had great life and lucky to have sucks great children. Our best wishes to all Love the Clarke’s