MISSOULA – Madeleine “Betty” Blankenship passed away Tuesday, Dec. 23, 2014, in Missoula. She was born Oct. 3, 1921, and was the eldest of three daughters of Roger and Madeleine Waite in Burlingame, California. She graduated from Lowell High School in San Francisco in 1939, and attended Stanford University from the fall of 1939 until 1941. In 1941, her father was transferred to Atlanta for business and the family became Southerners. While in Georgia, she decided to take flying lessons in hopes of joining the Women Airforce Service Pilots.
Betty met her husband, William “Buck” Blankenship of Missoula at her sister’s (Midge) wedding in Georgia. Buck was an army officer stationed in Alabama scheduled to go overseas immediately after the wedding. They had a romance through much correspondence and met again in Montana. They married in Missoula in May 1947. Their daughter, Barbara Lee, was born in September 1948, and Buck tragically passed away from a war-related illness in May 1949. Betty, with her family’s help, raised her daughter as a single working mom. Betty began her career at home as a secretary of the Missoula Hereford Association. In 1952, Betty took a full-time job as secretary with the Missoula County Republican Committee. In 1953, Betty started her almost 30-year career at the University of Montana. She was initially hired by the History and Political Science Department and moved on to the College of Arts and Sciences. In 1959, Betty moved to the School of Law and worked with deans Robert Sullivan and Jack Mudd, retiring in 1982 to enjoy “all those things retired people do.”
Betty spent her retirement years traveling, playing golf, skiing, quilting, volunteering and enjoying her home, family and friends in Missoula and at Flathead Lake. She was an active member of Soroptimist International Missoula and especially enjoyed sharing many outdoor activities with the "Hippie Mothers," her special friends and the Ladies of the Lake quilters. Betty did all these things with great gusto. She had an adventuresome spirit and challenged and taught her daughter, nieces and nephews to live life to the fullest. She was the keeper of traditions and memories, even taking over the role of “Queen of the Dancing Blue Flame,” lighting every celebratory pie on fire with good Early Times bourbon. She served London Fogs every Christmas and served “green slime” on hot summer afternoons. On the Fourth of July, she made her famous American flag cake. She was the holder of babies, and a knitter of blankets and hats. She loved to quilt, enjoyed live theater and the symphony. She liked dessert and raspberries.
Betty was a no-nonsense kind of gal and ruled the roost with an iron hand. But under that sometimes gruff exterior lived a lady who was kind and gave her time generously to the community. She will be missed.
She is survived by her daughter, Barbara Lee Blankenship of Auburn, Washington; and her two sisters, Barbara Sokoloski of Missoula and Marjorie Bird Watters of Paradise Valley, Arizona. She is also survived by her nephews, Don (Michelle) Sokoloski, Tommy (Kristin) Bird, Roger (Cindy) Bird, Robert Bird and John Sokoloski; and her nieces, Anne (Bruce) Maxwell and Madeleine (Jim) O’Malley; along with many great-nieces and great-nephews.
A memorial service will be held at the Springs of Missoula on Thursday, Jan. 8, at 2:30 p.m. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be sent to the University of Montana Law School, Flathead Lakers Organization or a charity of your choice.