Dec. 13, 2013
University’s First “First Lady” Passes Away
Elizabeth “Betty” Walton had a soft spot in her heart for Catholic University, even before her husband, Clarence Walton, became president of the University in 1969.
Clarence Walton was a dean at Columbia University during the turbulent 60s, where he earned a reputation as a skilled mediator, negotiating successfully between student protestors and the university administration. As a result, universities around the country courted him, seeing a capable leader for a troubled time. But, says son Thomas Walton, “My mother had premonitions. She would say, ‘Don’t take that one. Wait.’” Mrs. Walton told her husband that she thought The Catholic University of America, which was looking for a new president, would also approach him.
“My father thought this was impossible,” says Thomas Walton. Catholic University had been run by priests as rectors since it opened in 1887. Yet, Clarence Walton did become the first lay president of Catholic University, a position he held until 1979.
“For my mother, coming to Catholic University as the President’s wife was like stepping into uncharted waters,” says Thomas Walton. “It was a world of priests at every level of administration.” But, he says, she was undaunted, working graciously in public and behind the scenes to reassure everyone that this new reality was nothing to fear. “She made everyone feel comfortable and was a positive force on a campus rich with strong personalities.”
The grace that Mrs. Walton showed during her years as CUA’s first lady came naturally to her, says Frank Persico, vice president for university relations and chief of staff, and never flagged. “Father O’Connell and I visited her and Dr. Walton at their retirement home in Catonsville,” reports Persico. “When we went to lunch in the community center, she was the one who introduced us to everyone in the place, proud to present the President of Catholic University to her community.”
Persico, who was a student at the University during the Walton presidency, says, “She was a partner to Clarence Walton while he served. After he retired, she supported CUA and the President’s office in word and deed. She remained an ambassador for the University to the end of her life, even attending the May 2013 American Cardinals Dinner in Washington.”
Betty Walton died on Dec. 10, 2013, at the age of 93. She is survived by Thomas, who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in architecture and a Ph.D. in architectural history from Catholic University; a daughter, Mary Elizabeth Dixon, who holds a B.S.N. degree from the University; and five grandchildren.
The viewing will be held at 9:30 a.m. followed by the funeral at 10:30 a.m. on Dec. 20, 2013, in the chapel in Charlestown, 715 Maiden Choice Lane in Catonsville, MD 21228. People who would like to make a donation in Betty Walton’s name may give to the Annual Fund at The Catholic University of America. Letters of condolence may be set to Thomas and Kathleen Walton, 3802 Calverton Drive, University Park, MD 20782-1007.