Reny, Elizabeth "Betty" Johnson was surrounded by loving family when she passed away at her longtime home in Weston, MA on September 15, 2020, after a challenging year-long health decline. Betty showed amazing resilience, grace and strength, especially during the last few years of her life, connecting deeply and meaningfully with loved ones right until her death.
Born Elizabeth Sherwood on January 5, 1930 to Martha Leavitt Johnson and Francis Durfee Johnson of Belmont, MA, the third of four children, Betty spoke often of her happy childhood spent in long hair and braids with siblings she adored and parents who doted on her. She enjoyed swimming at White’s Pond, skiing at Blue Hills, visiting her “Gaga” in Fall River, MA, and spending time in Bridgewater, MA at the family’s treasured, historic homestead. The c. 1690 Deacon Joseph Alden House was a peaceful country retreat where Betty delighted in being close to nature and living simply, with its ancient hearth, kerosene lamps, hand-pumped well and outdoor privy. Betty loved the cherished tradition of Thanksgiving at the old house and telling family stories that brought ancestors to life.
Betty was a natural caregiver and an intuitive nurturer. She was 10 when her brother was born and from that time on always had a baby on her hip. In her teen years, Betty spent summers working on Wild Goose, one of the Thousand Islands on the St. Lawrence River. She was solely responsible for the care of her many Cleveland Dodge family cousins, from babies to school-age children, while also helping manage the household staff.
Betty met her future husband, Guy, at the Belmont High School Sadie Hawkins Dance when she was 14. A few years older, and in her sister’s class, he was known to be extremely kind and a perfect gentleman. Overcoming her shyness, Betty bravely asked him to dance and they were together from that moment on. Graduating early to enlist in the navy, Guy wrote a letter every day to Betty, always including a little “something” in his letters, if only a flower or piece of gum.
Accepted to Columbia University School of Nursing, Betty instead chose to further develop her artistic talents at Mass College of Art. Back from the South Pacific and enrolled at Boston College, Guy took Betty on unforgettable Saturday night dates at the Totem Pole Ballroom on the Charles River, dancing the night away to the country’s most famous swing bands. Betty then headed to New York City to study fashion design and illustration at the Art Students League, later returning to Boston to marry her one and only love, Lucien Guy Reny, on May 29, 1951. Betty and Guy shared a deep love of children and both wanted a large family, a goal they achieved having seven! They always put family first, caring and providing for their children in all possible ways.
Betty’s Fall River roots led them to Westport Harbor, MA, initially taking day trips to picnic at the Point of Rocks, then renting cottages on the Westport River, eventually purchasing a home next door to the Acoaxet Club in 1965, where they happily spent every summer since. The Westport house became an all-important gathering place for their growing family. Grandchildren all played and slept in their special space, “The Bunkroom”, awaiting their beloved Grammy’s goodnight hugs, kisses, back-scratches and sheet fanning on hot summer nights, each one receiving the gift of her individual attention and love.
Betty treasured her “Standard” family, the employees of Guy’s company, Standard Finishing. They welcomed her visits with enthusiasm where she greeted everyone with a smile and a kind word and inquired about their families, her iconic halo of white hair peeking above the cubicles as she made her rounds. A 1980s business conference in Puerto Rico led them to spend annual winter vacations in Palmas del Mar, where they enjoyed the warm sunshine, beach, tennis and dining with friends and family at their favorite restaurant, Chez Daniel.
An address book always by her side, Betty kept in close touch with her extended family and dear friends through frequent newsy phone calls, thoughtful cards and beautifully written notes that often included short poems known as her “little ditties”. She faithfully remembered everyone’s birthdays and anniversaries, even mailing notes in September a few days before she passed.
Betty was ahead of her time in many ways. She was naturally curious and cared deeply about people, often challenging the status quo and thinking outside the box. Betty was an instinctive practitioner of meditative renewal with her soothing hot baths providing a needed daily respite. An early proponent of breastfeeding, she explored a gluten/lactose free diet for her children before it was mainstream. Passionate about a parent’s right to comfort and be with their child during hospital stays, she also believed in the bio-chemical nature of mental illness and sought to reduce its stigma. Exceptionally compassionate and sensitive to her children’s needs, Betty was always a fierce and feisty advocate for each of them.
Betty will be lovingly remembered for lighting up every room she entered with her warm, generous spirit and radiant smile. She showered her love and sunshine on all those fortunate to cross her path, seeing and bringing out the best in people. Betty will be dearly missed, as is her wonderful Guy, the two of them now dancing together again, together forever…
Betty is survived by many loved ones, including daughter Beth & George Maxted, son Tim Reny & Amy Wheeler, son David & Nancy Reny, son Doug Reny & Lynn McKenna, daughter Jane & Stephen Frank, son Steven & Audrey Epstein Reny, son Mark Reny & Brenna Hamer, as well as seventeen grandchildren* (Aimee* & Josh Morin, David Maxted* & Montana Stevenson, Sarah Maxted* & David Tovani, Kate Maxted* & Chris King; Paul*, Jonathan* and Thomas Reny*; Christine* & Alex Wright, Suzanne* & Cliff Longley, and Michelle Reny*; William Frank* & Avani Madappa, Elizabeth Frank*, Caroline Frank* & Jack Forlines; Danielle* & Kyle Larrow, Gillian Reny* & Matt Nardella; Lacoya* and Nakai Reny-Hamer*), four great grandchildren (Lyla and Lucien Morin; Ethan Wright; Daniel Longley), siblings David Johnson and Thomas Johnson (with Ann Macrae having passed), and beloved nieces, nephews and in-laws.
A Celebration of Life memorial service will be held at a future date. Donations in Betty’s memory may be made to: The Fall River Historical Society Endowment Fund at www.lizzieborden.org or The Gillian Reny Stepping Strong Center For Trauma Innovation at www.bwhsteppingstrong.org.