Betty Ann Johnson Bland passed away peacefully in the early morning hours of the 18th of October 2015, after spending the previous afternoon enjoying her children, grandchildren and great-grandchild. She was born on May 18, 1929 in Hampton, VA, to her parents Irma E. Johnson and William F. Johnson.
Betty Ann spent her early years on the family farm in Hampton. Despite the hardships and scarcity of the Great Depression, she often remarked, “Looking back on the 1930’s, by today’s standards we were all poor, but were not affected by it. We had all we needed and were sustained during those days by our families, farms and faith.” She was reared with traditional values of the day: faith, integrity, courage, commitment, family, and duty, to name a few. These values were at the core of her inner beauty and could not be diminished by the passage of time.
She excelled academically throughout primary and secondary education and graduated from Hampton High School where she also lettered in Basketball. Afterwards, Betty Ann graduated from Newport News Business College. Her life-long interest in learning led her to return to college in the 1960’s and 1970’s for additional coursework in literature and history. After college, she began working in administration at the predecessor agency of NASA, NACA or the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, located at Langley Air Force Base, Hampton, VA. Those were exciting times at NACA which would eventually begin to ramp up for the race to space. Also, it was there that she met a young aeronautical engineer from Portsmouth, VA, named William M. Bland, Jr.
William and Betty were married on August 6, 1949 and remained so for the next 64 years until William’s passing on September 18, 2013. Their marriage was a remarkable partnership cemented by love and respect for each other. The early years of their marriage were spent in Hampton surrounded by friends and family. There were good times racing boats on the Chesapeake Bay, and during many family gatherings in Fox Hill and Portsmouth. In 1962, NACA restructured into NASA and the manned space program was transferred from Langley Air Force Base to Houston, TX. So the family moved to Houston, TX in 1962 and eventually put down roots in Nassau Bay, TX across from what is now the Johnson Space Center. With the space program accelerating through the Little Joe, Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs, William was frequently away from Houston on NASA business. This left Betty with the primary task of rearing the children, Ginny and William. By 1972, with her children in high school, her old interest in business management returned and she became the Manager of Alfie’s Fish-n-Chips restaurant located on Nasa Road 1, near Nassau Bay and NASA. The opportunity to acquire the business occurred and she became the owner-manager. From then until the early 1980’s, she eventually would be an owner-manager of three restaurants in the Houston area. Restaurants allowed her to combine two of her life-long interests: hospitality and business management. Years after selling the restaurants, customers would still recognize her in public and greet her as, “Mrs. Alfie’s.”
In the early 1980’s she partnered with William, after his retirement from NASA, in the establishment of a successful engineering consulting firm. She managed the administrative and investment activities of the business. The consulting business created many challenging opportunities for them throughout the country. By the mid-1990s, the declining health of her parents kept her constantly on the road between Houston and Hampton in support of them until early 2000. By 2005, William’s health began to decline, and she kept him going until September of 2013.
In addition to her interests in business and investments, Betty enjoyed traveling to her favorite destinations: San Francisco, Las Vegas, New Orleans, London and Paris. Other hobbies included needlepoint, coin collecting, antiques, fine art and gardening. She read three newspapers daily and maintained a substantial library. Additionally, Betty and William possessed a great love for this country and were considered true patriots.
Miss Betty, as her caregivers called her, lived a full and exciting life rich in family and faith. Those values from the 1930s provided the bedrock that allowed her to move successfully through life’s challenges. William wrote, “The very best thing that happened to me at NACA was the surprise meeting of another NACA employee, the very beautiful and talented Betty Ann Johnson. “ To her children and grandchildren, she was a beautiful, loving and generous mother and grandmother. All will miss her dearly. During the last moments of her life, she was completely at peace, without fear and in the presence of God. God Bless Betty Ann Johnson Bland.
Betty was preceded in death by her parents and her husband of 64 years, William M. Bland, Jr. She is survived by her daughter Ginny Bland Thomason and husband, David, and her son William M. Bland, III; grandchildren David Marshall Thomason and wife, Amanda, Sara Louise Thomason and Leah Ann Thomason; great-grandchild William James Thomason; and beloved family pet Belle Basset Bland all of Houston.
The family would like to recognize Dr. Matt Lenz, M.D., Ms. Jessica Toon, RN and his staff; and Dr. Ronan O’Malley, M.D. and his staff for their specialized care. Also recognized are the caregivers who provided excellent care: Amelia Page, CNA, Alicia Richard, CNA and Maira Gonzales, CNA, all of Sid Gerber & Associates. Finally, the dedicated and brave staff at Houston Hospice near the Medical Center provided compassionate care during her last days.
Betty was a Christian all her life and attended various Methodist churches. A memorial service will be held at the Crowder Funeral Home in Webster, Texas. She requested that her remains be cremated and scattered near the family homes in Hampton and Nassau Bay. In lieu of usual remembrances, the family requests donations to be made to The Wounded Warrior Project or to The Houston Hospice.