Bettie McDonald

  • "Mrs. Mac challenged us all to do more than we believed we..."
  • "Bettie McDonald is a Wonderful Teacher i have known her..."
    - Lucy Odden
  • "Bettie was fully engaged in the process of humanity in it's..."
    - Frank Coleman
  • "Celebrating a life well lived. It is so hard to believe..."
    - Aunt Katherine
  • "I am so sad & wish I could be there with all of you..."
    - Georgiann Crosta

Bettie Jean Smith McDonald, a devoted wife, loving mother, grandmother, sister, niece, aunt, mentor and friend, died in Hermosa Beach, CA on April 1 at the age of 77. She was a gifted musician, respected educator and a major figure who helped shape Alaska's arts landscape.

A Celebration of Life service will be held on Friday, July 6, 11 a.m., at First CME Church, 3600 MacInnes St.

Affectionately known by her students as Mrs. Mac, Bettie was born in Knoxville, TN on June 11, 1934 to Frank and Lila Smith. In 1952, she graduated from Austin High School in Knoxville, TN and earned a full scholarship to Knoxville College.

In September of 1953, Bessie, a friend of Bettie's, invited her to a sock hop to meet her "good buddy," Edward W. McDonald (Ed) a member of the transportation corps. Ed was assigned to pick up Bettie and transport her to the sock hop. The two married on July 17, 1954 and would remain so for the next 54 years.

In 1960, Ed was transferred to Elmendorf. Bettie "captured the hearts of Anchorage music lovers" and became an instant local celebrity, singing as a member and frequent soloist with the Anchorage Community Chorus, Anchorage Symphony Orchestra, Anchorage Opera and Alaska Festival of Music. In 1962, she opened the music department at Alaska Methodist University until 1964 when Ed was transferred out of Alaska to a series of tours that included Viet Nam.

From 1964 until 1969, the McDonald family made their home in Colorado Springs, CO. Bettie directed music at Manitou and Pikes Peak Elementary Schools and became a star attraction for local musical events with solo appearances. She said her proudest achievement was winning the national 1966 Valley Forge Teachers Medal.

In 1969, the McDonald family returned to Anchorage where once again, Bettie performed and taught. She challenged and inspired her students to be "dedicated to excellence" and "prepared for the 21st century." She was Director of Music at Orr Dee Clark Jr. High, taught music at Wendler Junior High School and served as choral instructor at East Anchorage High School. In 1973, she opened and chaired the Performing Arts Department at Bartlett High School where she founded the Bartlett Bear-A-Tones Swing Choir, directed the Concert Choir, taught Adolescent and Modern Problems, Black History, American Government, and Honors World History. At UAA, Bettie taught voice and was a Master Class Instructor.

In 1993 after 42 years of teaching, Bettie retired from the Anchorage School District and opened

Mel-O-Mac Voice Studio where she taught voice privately.

Her contributions to the State of Alaska were many. In 1976, Governor Jay Hammond appointed her to the Alaska State Council on the Arts where she served for six years and was a pioneer for the Percent for Art in Public Places statute. Bettie participated in the Bicentennial Parade of States representing Alaska at the Kennedy Center. She was requested to sing for the inaugurations of several governors including Jay Hammond, William Sheffield and Tony Knowles. In 1981, Bettie was selected as one of the soloists who performed when Pope John-Paul II conducted mass at Holy Family Cathedral during his visit to Anchorage.

One of the many traits that Bettie will be remembered for is her large, infectious and deep laugh. Most who found themselves in her presence while she was lost in laughter, would inevitably start laughing without knowing the reason why.

Bettie was a two-term member of the Anchorage Concert Association's Board of Directors, Anchorage "Mother of the Year" (1962), cited in Outstanding Young Women of America (1967), recipient of the Anchorage School District's Outstanding Service Award and recipient of the Governor's 2002 Denali Award for outstanding service.

She is survived by her four children: Roderick (Hattie) McDonald, Hermosa Beach, CA, Lauri King, Anchorage, AK, Benjamin (Kate) McDonald, Olympia, WA, and Lila McDonald, Oakland, CA; Maternal Aunt, Katherine H. Atkins, Woodbridge, VA; sister, Marion S. Taylor, Philadelphia, PA; seven grandchildren: Melody Ludlow, Malauri, Edward, and Maci King, Madison (Javier) Sola Del Vigo, Sayer and Ciel McDonald; two great grandchildren: Leah and Amanda McDonald; nephews, Eugene (Jovonsia) and Derrick Taylor, and a host of cousins, extended family, friends and colleagues.

Published in Anchorage Daily News from July 3 to July 4, 2012