Bettye Gillespie, distinguished Utah activist, dies

Local News

OGDEN, Utah (ABC4) – A Utah civil rights activist has passed away “following a long illness,” according to her family.

Bettye Gillespie died in her Ogden home on July 2.

A release shared with ABC4.com by her family says Bettye was born in Fort Worth, Texas, but moved to Utah as a young child when her father went to work for Union Pacific Railroad.

At 15, Bettye graduated from Ogden High School. She went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and a minor in Sociology from Howard University in Washington, D.C. She later earned a Master of Political Science and a Master of Human Resource Management at the University of Utah.

Bettye served as the Director of Equal Employment Opportunity at Hill Air Force Base for 20 years. She was the only Director and the only female Equal Employment Opportunity Officer in the Air Force Logistics Command.

According to her family, Bettye was among the highest-ranked Black civilian employees at Hill for four decades.

Bettye’s family says she and her husband, Jim, “battled to shatter racial, economic, and gender stereotypes for close to 50 years.”

“They were both NAACP Life Members and served the organization on the local, regional, and national levels. Bettye impacted the lives of many young activists as Youth Director of the Ogden NAACP. She spearheaded voter registration drives and often took her own young children door to door to register voters.”

Bettye was also involved in YCC (formerly YWCA), League of Women Voters, and Habitat for Humanity.

In 1974, Bettye became the first African American to be appointed to the University of Utah Board of Trustees. She served in that role until 1981.

According to her family, “Bettye received the Black Pioneers in Utah Award from the Ogden Area Community Action Agency in 1995. She was appointed to The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Utah Advisory Committee in 1998. She received the Juneteenth Legacy of Freedom Award; Minority Bar Association Community Service Award; Delta Sigma Theta Women Make a Difference Statue; NAACP Rosa Parks Award and University of Utah Merit of Honor Award.  Over the years Bettye received several awards from Weber State University (WSU), including the 2013 WSU Salutes Distinguished Service Award.”

A memorial scholarship fund has been set up in Bettye’s honor at the University of Utah.

There will be a viewing from 6 to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, July 13, 2021, at Myers Mortuary, 845 Washington Boulevard, Ogden, UT 84404. Bettye’s Delta Sigma Theta sorority sisters will conduct the Omega Omega ceremony, a final rite of passage and farewell for all Delta sorors.

A celebration of life will be held Wednesday, July 14, 2021 at The Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, 2374 Grant Ave, Ogden, UT 84401 at 1 p.m. The viewing will be from noon until 12:45 p.m. The service will be live-streamed on YouTube. The link is: https://youtu.be/4Uz1byZTKjg

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