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Betty Brummett 1942-2011


Former registrar Elizabeth “Betty” Bell Brummett died on August 9, 2011, after a three-year battle with cancer. She was 69 and had retired from Juilliard in 2008. Born in Middleboro, Ky., on May 16, 1942, Brummett grew up in Aberdeen, Miss., and received her bachelor’s degree from what is now Samford University in Birmingham, Ala., and her master’s from Emory University in Atlanta; she also did the coursework for a Ph.D. in math from Columbia Teachers College. Brummett, who taught high school for a year in Germany, also worked as an econometrist for the state of Mississippi and as a math educator for the Mississippi Authority for Educational Television. After moving to New York City, Brummett worked at Barnard in the registrar’s office and the information technology department; she was the associate registrar at Barnard when she was hired at Juilliard, in 1989. Survivors include her husband of 31 years, Albert Watson, four siblings and their spouses, and numerous nephews and nieces. Vice President and Dean of Academic Affairs Karen Wagner, who preceded Brummett as registrar, remembers her longtime colleague.

Betty Brummett and her husband, Albert Watson, in 1994.


In his opening remarks to the Juilliard faculty in September of 1989, then Dean Bruce MacCombie announced that the first good thing he and I did in our new association was to hire Betty Brummett as Juilliard’s registrar (I had just been promoted from registrar to assistant dean). It was a proud moment, and for me, the beginning of a 19-year working relationship that grew into a deeply valued friendship.  We spent many an administrative moment tussling over how to implement best practices at the School, our styles vastly different but our philosophies completely in sync, our respect mutual and unshakable.  Betty had just left a position at Barnard, and with the B.C.J. program (Juilliard’s exchange with Columbia and Barnard) ready to be launched, her experience and contacts were invaluable.

Support of the faculty was always a priority for Betty, and her dedication to high standards enabled her to establish a tenure hallmarked by fairness and unwavering integrity.  She brought to the job a facility with technology, an ease with numbers (she was a mathematician by training and had taught at Hunter College), and a unique knack for problem-solving (she  loved putting together jigsaw puzzles without ever looking at the picture on the box!).  

Betty worked steadily—without fanfare, without artifice—and, in many ways, her life beyond her professional duties was lived in much the same style.  With her husband and best friend Albert (also a mathematician), she was the quintessential patron of the arts.  Avid theatergoers, they always had numerous subscriptions and were in regular attendance at Juilliard performances.  (I always suspected that they enjoyed a special level of David Auburn’s Proof that was not readily accessible to the general public.)  Betty’s life was filled with the warmth of many friends, and a selfless commitment to service through her community at West End Collegiate Church.  

I loved that Betty had attended an Elvis Presley concert long before Elvis became “the King”; that she loved walks in nature and had looked to retire somewhere along the Appalachian Trail; that each spring she adorned her desk with a bouquet of bright yellow flowers.  And I’ll always remember her sitting across from me at our regular Tuesday morning meeting on September 11, 2001, saying simply, “Well, life as we know it has changed.”  That could easily be said now, with her untimely passing.  It was a great honor to be Betty’s friend and colleague, and for me, her spirit will continue to resonate with the daffodils in springtime, the hummingbirds in summer, with imaginary numbers, and the lilt of a Nanci Griffith song.  

—Karen Wagner

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