Betty Topp Townsend, for many years a teacher and assistant principal, died in New Orleans on
November 23, 2018, after a long illness. She was 85. She had an inauspicious start: In the
Depression year 1933, in Kingston, New York, her mother Genevieve Short died shortly after
she was born. Her aunt Louise Topp Studt took her in while her father Harold looked for work.
She was to live with her aunt and her family until she left for college. A star student, at age 16,
she crossed the country to attend the University of California, Berkeley. After graduating in
1954, she taught English at Monterey High School, in Monterey, California, where she met US
Navy officer G.E. Townsend. They were married in San Francisco in 1958, and together moved
six times until she again taught English, at Taiwan’s Taipei University.
In 1971, the couple returned to the San Francisco Bay Area, now with their son Mark, where
she became a special education teacher. After her husband moved to Baker, Louisiana, to
teach junior ROTC, she began a 25-year career in the East Baton Rouge Parish schools. First as a
teacher, then as an assistant principal, she held positions at several Baton Rouge middle
schools, including Broadmoor, Capitol, Glen Oaks, and McKinley. While teaching, she earned a
Master of Education degree from LSU, Baton Rouge, in 1976. She was a tireless advocate for
public education in Louisiana, especially for expanding opportunities available to minority and
low-income students and for improving the safety and financial security of teachers.
Mrs. Townsend had an active retirement, especially valuing her work as a volunteer docent at
the LSU Rural Life museum. She was a voracious reader. Upon her husband’s death in 2012,
she realized a long-held wish to live in New Orleans, a city she loved.
Mrs. Townsend is survived by her son Dr. Mark Townsend (Dr. Jeffrey Lockman); grandson
Benjamin Lockman Townsend Mark and his mother Dr. Rebecca Mark; and cousin Albert Studt
of Boiceville, NY, with whom she was reared and considered a brother. She is also survived by
Irene Fogleman Townsend (sister-in-law) of Wilmington, NC; Rosa and Tom Williams (brotherand
sister-in-law) of Houston, TX; Rodney Young (brother-in-law) of West Point, GA; the Clovis,
NM, family of her late stepmother Carolyn Franse Topp; and numerous cousins.
Funeral services will be held Saturday, December 1, at 1 PM at Christ Church Cathedral, 2919 St.
Charles Avenue, New Orleans. Visitation will begin at 12 noon. Burial will be at Arlington
National Cemetery. The family is deeply grateful to Vista Shores Assisted Living. In lieu of
flowers, please consider donations to Save the Children (support.savethechildren.org) and the
Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society (www.nmcrs.org).