A longtime faculty member of the French department and the greater Georgetown community, Dorothy Betz passed away on Tuesday morning from a ruptured aorta.
According to Andrew Sobanet, chair of the French department, Betz did not feel well Monday evening and was rushed to the hospital. She died in surgery at about 6:30 a.m. Tuesday.
“[Betz] was a delight to work with. She was supportive, collegial, dedicated to her students and a great champion of the French language and French literature,” Sobanet said. “She also had a terrific sense of humor and was integral to the life of the French department. She will be sorely missed.”
First joining the university’s faculty 38 years ago, Betz became an influential member of the community.
“We are all shocked and saddened by this sudden, unfathomable loss. But what seems even more unimaginable is our department, indeed, Georgetown without [Betz],” said Miléna Santoro, associate professor in the French department.
Betz was an expert in 19th century French poetry, and she regularly published on the topic. Aside from her tenure in the French department, Betz very active in university affairs, serving as secretary to the faculty senate from 1983 to 1991, and was once more re-elected in 1995.
“[Betz] was one of the most dedicate faculty senate members I’ve ever known. She rarely, if ever, missed a meeting, and nearly always had a pithy and pointed comment,” President of the Faculty Senate Wayne Davis said. “It is hard to imagine the Senate without her.”
She also sat on the executive committee of Phi Beta Kappa, holding the position of vice president at the time of her death.
“Dorothy Betz was truly one of the most devoted citizens of the university,” Deborah Lesko Baker, professor and former chair of the French department, said.
According to Lesko Baker, Betz had been instrumental in the continuation of the Phi Beta Kappa chapter at Georgetown. At the time of her death, she had been planning this year’s reception for new inductees and their parents for graduation.
Betz had also pushed for the addition of a French floor in a student residence hall or a French house for students to be immersed in French and improve their language skills, Santoro said.
Santoro reflected on Betz’s generosity toward her colleagues.
“When I myself arrived at Georgetown in 1996, [Betz] went out of her way to make me feel welcome, inviting me to lunch and filling me in on life in the department on many occasions,” Santoro said.
Betz would also stitch items such as hand-crocheted shawls and curtains for her colleagues, Santoro said.
Pierre Taminiaux, associate professor in the French department, agreed with Santoro on Betz’s welcoming presence in the department. According to Taminiaux, Betz would hold a Christmas party in her office each year.
“It was a wonderful occasion to chat, eat and drink with colleagues from other departments who were also invited. She created a warmth and friendly atmosphere that enabled us to interact with one another in a casual way,” Taminiaux said.
“She loved everything social about the department. She was a real social animal,” Lesko Baker said. “She had wonderful stories. She loved to tell stories.”
Betz was also known for her sense of humor – the door of her office was covered with comic strips and humorous quotations.
“With me, she made a point of sharing comics that lampooned Québécois French and Canada more generally, since that is where I hail from. It was the kind of ribbing we both enjoyed,” Santoro said.
This semester, Betz taught Intermediate French 2 as well as Reading Texts in the French-Speaking World: Literatures. Other members of the French department will be taking over her classes for the remainder of the semester.
Some past students said that she was extremely knowledgeable and her passion for French language and literature came through her teaching. Betz had an extraordinary dedication to her students. Her students and their work were always at the top of her list, Lesko Baker said.
“She had that sort of quirky personality that kept things interesting and fun. She was also extremely brilliant. I took her French literature course, and her passion for the subject and the materials covered was highly evident,” Ridge Blanchard (COL ’11) said.
Kate Reilly (COL ’12), currently enrolled in Betz’s French literature class, reflected on how the class was much more than just a survey course as Betz would bring in artistic, social and political context from her own personal experiences.
“She was incredibly intelligent and cultured, and could recite French and English poetry and verses by memory. She was also able to connect her education to her daily life, calling them her digressions,” Reilly said. “She would share these connections with us, for our own cultural and intellectual benefit.”
Reilly said that Betz was unlike many of her other professors.
“She was a professor from a different generation of French. She taught my parents French,” she said.
Betz is survived by her husband Paul Betz, professor emeritus in the English department, who was unavailable for comment.
A Memorial Mass will be held on April 20 in Dahlgren Chapel of the Sacred Heart.