Utah civil rights leader Bettye Gillespie died at age 92 on July 2 in her Ogden home after a long illness, her family announced on Thursday.
Gillespie was the first African American to be appointed to the University of Utah board of trustees and was among the highest-ranked Black civilian employees at Hill Air Force Base, where she worked for over 40 years as the only Equal Employment Opportunity director at Hill Air Force Base and the only female EEO officer in the Air Force Logistics Command, according to her family.
Gillespie and her husband, James Gillespie, belonged to the NAACP and served the organization on multiple levels. James Gillespie served as the president of the NAACP Ogden branch alongside Bettye Gillespie who served as the youth director of the branch. The couple worked to overcome racial, economic and gender stereotypes throughout their lifetime, the family said.
Along with her work at the Ogden NAACP, Gillespie initiated voter registration drives and took her own children door to door to register voters.
“Bettye left Utah a much more just, inclusive and beautiful place than she found it. Her own beauty was only matched by her kindness, compassion and generosity. She was loved throughout this community and beyond. That love lives on through her remarkable legacy,” Gillespie’s daughter Deon said in a press release.
Gillespie moved to Utah as a young girl when her father went to work for the Union Pacific Railroad.
Gillespie graduated from Ogden High School at age 15 and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in political science and a minor in sociology from Howard University, a historically Black college in Washington, D.C. Later she earned a master’s in political science and a master’s in human resource management at the University of Utah.
A memorial scholarship fund has been set up in her honor at the University of Utah.
In addition to her involvement in Ogden NAACP, Gillespie was involved in YCC (formerly YWCA); League of Women Voters; Habitat for Humanity, where she served one term as president; and the Ogden alumnae chapter of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority where she was a founding member and two-term president.
Some of her honors include: the Black Pioneers in Utah Award from the Ogden Area Community Action Agency; the Juneteenth Legacy of Freedom Award; Minority Bar Association Community Service Award; Delta Sigma Theta Women Make a Difference Statue; NAACP Rosa Parks Award; and University of Utah Merit of Honor Award.
Gillespie is survived by her daughters, Shauna Gillespie-Ford and Deon Gillespie, and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
“Bettye dedicated herself (and her family) to challenging inequality wherever it existed. Her vast intellect, sharp wit and uncompromising spirit made a lasting impact, not just in Utah, but throughout the country,” the family said in a release.
A viewing will be held from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on July 13 at Myers Mortuary, 845 Washington Blvd. in Ogden. A celebration of life will be held the following day at The Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, 2374 Grant Ave. in Ogden at 1 p.m., which will also be livestreamed.