Pillar of Monrovia: Betty Sanford

Betty Sanford. | Photo courtesy of the Sanford Family

June 18, 1927 – Jan. 13, 2021

By Susan Motander

We are sad to tell you that the remarkable Betty Sandford has passed away. She was known as an activist, mentor and fighter for the underserved. She devoted herself to the community of Monrovia, where she was born and lived for over 90 years. 

Mayor Tom Adams wrote: “Betty Sandford was truly one of the Pillars of the Community. She and her husband Jules were a force for good in Monrovia for decades, always looking to improve Monrovia, in a very positive manner.”

Betty worked on more committees than I can recall but one that really comes to life is her serving on the Monrovia Centennial some 35 years ago. It was a wonderful time in Monrovia and Betty was a large part of that. Her service as a member of the Monrovia Unified School Board of Education was very notable along with all the other places she served. Betty never said no, she was always willing and very capable of helping.

She will be missed but she left her mark and leaves Monrovia much better than she found it. The Monrovia City Council closed its meeting on Jan. 19 in her memory, and a great memory it is.

Her involvement in Monrovia’s City Council politics was from behind the scenes. She backed Bob Bartlett, Eric Faith and Pat Ostrey when they ran for City Council on a platform of saving Monrovia which in the 1970s was slowly dying. Those three turned the city around with Betty and Jules backing them all the way.

Following in the footsteps of her husband, Jules, Betty served for several years on the board of directors of the Foothill Unity Center. Foothill Unity Center’s Executive Directors for the past 25 years, Joan Whitenack (1995 to 2012) and Betty McWilliams (2012 to present) wrote: “Betty Sandford was not only a pillar for the whole community, she was one of Foothill Unity Center’s pillars. She was instrumental in the founding of Foothill Unity Center as a safety net for the poor, which she supported for 40 years. She and husband, Jules, each served as Directors on the Board — helping in so many ways. Betty really walked her talk (and talked others into helping too)!”

I was privileged to serve with Betty on several committees with Betty in conjunction with Unity Center. She always lectured me on how to be a community leader. She told me, “Be the person who delegates the job of making the sandwiches to someone, not the person who makes the tuna fish sandwiches.” She wanted me to be a leader rather than a follower. I failed; I like to cook.

Always concerned about education, she served on the Monrovia School Board. Betty’s philosophy was always, “Don’t just talk about a problem, do something.” She also helped organize the campaigns for several other successful candidates. Betty always picked winner.

Her involvement with the schools led to her support of the Louise K. Taylor’s Performing Arts Center’s Professional Productions for the Community. She was honored at the last gala two years ago for her dedication to the productions. She supported and attending them all. She even hosted the kickoff party for the beginning of the project and some of the opening night parties.

Patrick Garcia remembered at that last gala he sang “Too Wonderful for Words” as his tribute to Betty. He said, “When we started the professional performances, she hosted our first party and told me, ‘Patrick whatever you need, I will help you with.’ She was a true lady, a gem.”

Travel, adventure and experiencing other cultures was a passion for Betty. She journeyed to every continent, with the exception of Antarctica. 

She was a voracious reader, preferring non-fiction, always wanting to learn something new. Following this interest, she supported Monrovia Reads, the foundation dedicated to establishing 100% literacy in Monrovia. She even served as the founding secretary of the board of directors.  As Joanne Spring, the founding president, said, “She was relentless about anything she was involved with — she gave it her attention 24/7 and 100% effort. She was committed to living in a literate community.”

She was also a founding member of Monrovia ChangeMakers, a group working to celebrate the great ethnic diversity of Monrovia. As its current president, Lois Gaston wrote: “Betty Sandford’s dedication to the elimination of bigotry, discrimination and social injustice was unrelenting. Her efforts resulted in, among many other noteworthy things, Mimi Mency and Bob Bartlett (the first African Americans to hold the office) and Pat Ostrye (a Catholic woman) being elected to public office in Monrovia. She leaves Monrovia ChangeMakers as a legacy for us and future generations to benefit from her wisdom, to cherish her memory, and to continue the work. On a personal note, I am honored to have known her, had her call me a close friend and trusted me to help her found and lead Monrovia ChangeMakers.”

Betty became an avid runner in her late 40s, running the hills and streets of Monrovia and beyond. She won numerous races in her age category, and maintained her fitness routine, working out with her trainer three days each week, up until her death.

Betty worked hard in the nuclear freeze movement. When Al Gore led the first climate change conference in Brazil, she was there. 

In her late 80s, Betty took up the jazz drums, and was so fortunate to have the renowned jazz drummer, the great Roy McCurdy as her instructor. If you ever heard her play, she was actually quite good.

Betty loved food — she could taste any dish and tell you what was in it. I thought she had great taste as she loved my sweet kugel.

Although Betty said she never told a lie, she certainly knew how to embellish a story.

Although her achievements and honors are many, Betty Sandford was the mother of Randy, Leslie and Kevin Sandford, the grandmother of Sarah, Rebecca, Alicia and Mia, and newest grandchildren Molly, Mason and Merrin. 

“Betty Sandford grew up in a Monrovia characterized by bigotry and segregation.  She took the pain of her youth and transformed it into a beacon light for positive change, inclusiveness, and healing.  The Monrovia of today bears little resemblance to that long ago time and yet, as Betty would be the first to remind us, we must remain vigilant to keep that hard-won change.  Her role for the last fifty years is unequaled.” – Steve Baker

She was extraordinary in these roles. If you would like to honor Betty, the family asks that you please donate to your favorite charity, write a letter to the editor, volunteer, do something to make our world, our country or your community a better place — Betty always did.

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