Judge Betty Howard, `Warmth And Humanity' In Justice System

After the Depression shrunk the job market for recent journalism graduates and her dreams of being a newspaper reporter were blurred by years of uninteresting work on in-house publications, Betty Howard returned to the University of Washington.

That was in 1944, when her husband, Bill, announced he was returning to law school. She had $75 for the quarterly tuition and joined her husband as a law student.

Working part-time as a secretary to help pay the couple's bills, she graduated from the UW a second time in 1947, this time with a law degree.

Later she quipped that she never intended to finish those classes, that she went back to school only to understand more of what her husband discussed.

Retired Seattle District Court Judge Betty Taylor Howard died Saturday, Dec. 23, of complications following a stroke she suffered Dec. 5. She was 84.

Roderick Howard of Port Angeles, brother of Judge's Howard's late husband and her only survivor, remembers her as "kind of a shirttail aunt. Bill was 21 years older so I was just a kid when they were starting out.

"But I remember from those years the image that she believed if you worked your buns off and kept at it, you would succeed. Betty was one of a kind," he said.

Judge Howard "had a very dry and sometimes sarcastic sense of humor," he said. "And a lot of the time it was self-deprecating. But she was very much a people person," he said.

She and her husband opened a joint law practice in Seattle but, she said later, rarely discussed their cases with each other because they had very different methods. In 1956, she became the first woman appointed judge pro tem in Superior Court.

In 1973, Judge Howard was appointed to the Seattle District Court bench and ran for re-election without opposition until forced by state law to retire at age 75 in December, 1986. She had served as presiding judge in 1982.

At that time, Richard Roth, District Court administrator, said Judge Howard "doesn't like off-the-bench conflicts and likes everyone to get along." In court, "She takes her time and listens to people and likes that kind of personal arena," he said.

Judge R. Joseph Wesley saw Judge Howard as an inspiration: "She brings an element of warmth and humanity that is sometimes in contrast to the colder and harsher aspects of the justice system."

In retirement, she carried out a pledge to look up and get reacquainted with old friends. And she continued her avid hunting of antique china, silver and furniture in shops sprinkled around the couple's second home in Long Beach, Pacific County.

Adopted as a child, Judge Howard graduated from Franklin High School, and for many years she and her husband lived in the Mount Baker neighborhood. They did not have children. Her husband preceded her in death.

At Judge Howard's request, there will be no funeral service. A celebration of her life is scheduled for 1 p.m. Thursday at the Pentilis chapel in Long Beach. Memorials may be made to the Marian Gallagher Library Fund, Washington Law School Foundation, 1100 Campus Parkway N.E., Seattle, WA, 98105.