Betty Sumrall died peacefully in her sleep on Dec. 5, 2011, at the age of 95.
Born Elizabeth Anne Clark on Oct. 16, 1916, she grew up in a house her father built on a vast sheep ranch outside Laytonville, Mendocino County, Calif. She was the eldest child of Frank and Kathryn Clarke. Frank’s grandparents came out to California from England in a covered wagon, homesteading in the 1860’s. Betty’s only brother, Douglas, was killed in WWII; she outlived her beloved sisters, Virginia, Fran and Marge. Betty attended Oakland Arts and Crafts before falling in love with a jazz drummer, Bill Mouser, whom she married in 1939. After daughter Carolyn was born she divorced Bill and married Ben Sumrall, a commercial artist. John and Melinda were born before the family moved from San Francisco to Palo Alto “for the sunshine.”
While raising her children, Betty volunteered for more than 10 years as a Gray Lady at the Stanford Hospital, especially loving to care for sick and recovering infants. She also volunteered at the Allied Arts Guild and for several homeless shelters in the San Jose area. When she and Ben divorced, Betty began working at Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park for $1.30 an hour. She became manager at Roy Kepler’s Los Altos store, and children’s book buyer for both. She loved Roy, the community of regulars and staff: intellectuals, radicals, and students. She later described these 20 years at Kepler’s as “the best years of my life.” In the 1960s she also volunteered for Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and NAACP and was outspoken about civil rights and the Vietnam war. She liked to see things from the underdog’s point of view.
Betty moved north to Ashland, Ore., which she ever held dear, and at 82 moved again, further north to Orcas Island, Wash. to be near her son John. John and his wife Charlotte took tender care of her as she advanced in years. She eventually spent her last years at the Life Care Center at Friday Harbor, where the staff cared for her beautifully. Her family is very grateful for the staff there.
We will remember Betty for her love of animals. She loved flowers and always created wonderful flower gardens wherever she lived. She loved to read, and wrote clever and poignant doggerel. She generously shared her money and time with causes that moved her, and loved a good irreverent comment or joke. We will miss her. She is survived by her children: Carolyn and partner Dwight; John, his wife Charlotte, his sons Matthew, Joseph, Joseph’s wife Val, and great-grand children Joseph and Lissa; Melinda and her partner Susan, and Melinda’s children Noah, and fiance Sari, Eli and wife Andria, Gideon, Tessa and fiance Chris, and Josiah; and her great-granddaughters, Talullah and Tilda; and many nieces and nephews.
A memorial service is planned for Jan. 21 beginning at noon at the Odd Fellows Hall on Orcas Island. Contributions may be made in her name to any animal welfare organization of your choice.
Submitted by Betty Sumrall’s family.