The Hon. Betty J. Lester died peacefully on May 8 in Sarasota, Fla. she was 75.

Betty Joan Johnson was born in Bristol, Pa., on Oct. 14, 1945, to John and Ollie Johnson. The fourth of six children, Betty was a smart and talkative child who loved to read. She attended Bristol High School where she sang in the state girls choir and marched as a drum majorette. After high school, Betty enrolled at Howard University in Washington, D.C., where she met and married Althear Lester, a student at Howard Law School. Their daughter Alyse was born during her final year in college. In May 1968 Betty and Althear graduated from Howard University and Howard Law School, respectively with their infant daughter in their arms. After college, Betty enrolled at Rutgers Law School, earning her juris doctorate in 1972. She was one of five women in the inaugural class of the Minority Student Program, and she co-founded the Concerned Legal Associates, which later became the Garden State Bar Association, New Jersey’s oldest and largest professional organization for African-American judges, lawyers and law students.

After law school Betty worked in the New Jersey public defender’s office in Newark, where she represented defendants charged with violations of state criminal laws. At one point in her career as a defense attorney, she won 29 consecutive jury acquittals for her clients. In 1977, Mayor Kenneth Gibson appointed her to the Newark Municipal Court as a trial judge. She was 31. Several years later she was promoted to presiding judge, where she supervised a panel of nine municipal trial judges. In 1985, Gov. Thomas Kean appointed her to the superior court of the State of New Jersey. With these two appointments, Betty earned the distinction of being the first African American female presiding judge in Essex County, and the

second African American female judge to be appointed to the superior court in New Jersey. Later in her career, she was promoted to presiding judge of the superior court, criminal division where she supervised approximately 25 trial judges. After 32 years of service to the judiciary, Betty retired from the bench in 2009 and relocated with her husband to Sarasota, Fla., and became a seasonal resident of Martha’s Vineyard.

She was a member of the New Jersey State Bar Association, the Essex County Bar Association, and the National Association of Women Judges. On the national level, she was appointed as a commissioner for the Commission on Accreditation of Law Enforcement Agencies.

She was a member of several private social organizations,including Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., The Doll League and the Sarasota Circle-Lets.

She was a devoted wife, mother and homemaker, social justice activist, trail-blazing attorney, distinguished and intelligent jurist and dedicated mentor. Deeply passionate, relentlessly curious and loving, Betty will be dearly missed.

She is survived by Althear, her beloved husband of 52 years; their daughter Alyse; her siblings John, Marie, Wilmer and O’Linda; her grandchildren Jaden and Sophia; her son in law Gordon; nieces and nephews Darryl, Sherry, Brian, Terry, Pam, Christian; and many other family members and friends.