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Published on October 15, 2021

Betty R. Tipton: Champion of All

Betty Tipton, 1963

Over the decades, faculty members at Eastern Connecticut State University have impacted students’ lives well beyond their coursework, teaching self-esteem, motivation, life skills and service to others. Few individuals have had more impact on students, faculty and staff than Betty R. Tipton.

Before her retirement in 1989, Tipton’s 37 years of service saw her take on many roles as a teacher, administrator and student advocate. During that time, she was a professor of education, financial aid director and director of housing, as well as dean of women (1964–70); associate dean (1970–90); and as affirmative action compliance officer and coordinator from 1975–78. Tipton also served on the University Senate.

“The assistant director of financial aid was changed to a full director because of the many new federal loan and grant programs,” described retired Executive Vice President Michael Pernal, who served as resident administrator of Burr Hall when Tipton was financial aid director. “New residence halls created the need for more full-time residence directors, requiring more supervision, staff training and orientation programs, as Eastern changed from a commuter school to an increasingly residential college.” 

Laura Tordenti '81

Pernal said Tipton “became a great influence on junior faculty and worked behind the scenes in mentoring them. She also became a force on campus in faculty/shared governance. No discussions of issues involving faculty and staff relations took place without mention of Betty.”

A native of Georgia, Tipton moved to New York after her undergraduate program to Columbia Teacher’s College, the New York School of Social Work and the New School for Social Research.

Former Vice President for Student Affairs Laura Tordenti ’81 said what impressed her most  about Tipton was her “non-judgmental approach to human behavior, a sense of humor, and the ability to laugh at oneself — characteristics she modeled to others. Her mother raised her with the philosophy of having a sense of dignity in oneself and according it to others. Betty would often say ‘you’re as good as anyone and not a bit better.’” 

Faith Middleton
Faith Middleton ’71

For the last 10 years of her career, “BT”, as she was affectionately called on campus, served as union president for college administrators at Connecticut’s four state universities.  “Betty became the president of Eastern’s SUOAF unit and later president of the SUOAF bargaining team for the four colleges that negotiated contracts with the Board of Trustees,” said Pernal. “She was known as a skilled and fair negotiator and leader.”

On Dec. 11, 1998, the Student Center’s Multipurpose Room was renamed the Betty R. Tipton Room, an apt honor for someone who spent her career in service of students; it remains one of the busiest spaces on campus. Tipton passed away on May 30, 1999 but is still remembered by many as a campus icon. 

Carla Goodwin ’69

One student greatly impacted by Tipton was Faith Middleton ’71, who was active in student government and wrote for the Campus Lantern, eventually becoming a legend on WNPR. Of Tipton, Middleton said, “I remember that flaming reddish hair her savvy, no-nonsense personality. She encouraged what we call ‘good trouble.’ It was she who allowed some of us to conduct a protest sit-in in the president’s office to make Eastern bring in more Black students, which it did. Betty was fierce and memorable.”

Carla Goodwin ’69, was another Tipton disciple. “Betty Tipton was the most influential woman in my life. She was instrumental in teaching me how to assume leadership. She encouraged me to take an active role in the Connecticut Governors Council for Colleges. She would drive with me to Hartford to attend as a representative to the Governor’s Office, talking all the way, one foot on the gas and one on the brake, with a cigarette punctuating her points of view.”

Ron Pires ’76

Ron Pires ’76 was a Norwich Free Academy basketball star taken under Betty’s wing. In 1980, he was named head basketball coach at E.O. Smith High School in Storrs, where he still coaches. “As a young man, being the first one in a family of 11, I was apprehensive of going to college and being away from home. Betty Tipton was a big part of making it easier for me to adjust to college life. Whenever I had a problem, she would sit me down and tell me how to handle it. To this day, I can hear her caring voice and see her wonderful smile.”

Andy Cote ’75

“I have very fond memories of Dean Tipton,” said Andy Cote ’75. “During my four years at Eastern, I observed Betty being directly involved with underprivileged classmates, helping them out. One friend, a student from Ethiopia, had no family here. He was one of my best friends, had strong political opinions spawned from a Third World perspective, and never disclosed the cause of ‘exile.’ Betty became his mom. Whenever he had a serious problem that he did not have the resources to overcome, Betty was the discrete unseen hand helping him out.”

Luis Rivera ’72 also remembers Tipton fondly:I had the great privilege of meeting Dean Betty Tipton as a senior at Hartford Public High School in 1968. As an inner-city teenager, I did not believe that I had the potential to succeed in college. However, this charming redhead with a heavy southern accent encouraged and provided the resources to help me and other disadvantaged young people to become the first college graduates in our families. In 1972, I graduated from Eastern Connecticut State College and went on to receive a master’s degree in education.” 

Kathleen Kennedy ’74

Kathleen Kennedy ’74 was another Tipton project.Betty Tipton saved me from dropping out of college in sophomore year. I had lost focus and was bored with my classes, in spite of great grades.  Over the weekend, I announced that I was quitting school. On Monday I was asked to make an appointment to see the dean. When we chatted, she was warm and understanding and inquisitive about what else was going on in my life. We came to the conclusion that I would register for the next semester and finish out sophomore year. In her wisdom, she encouraged me to take only courses that were fun and interesting . . . it worked!”

Edward Gaffney ’69 recalls, “I met Betty Tipton in the financial aid office on my first day of class in 1965. I told her I was working my way through college and informed her that I needed a student loan to make it through the school year. She wrote me a check for my financial shortfall right there on the spot. It was a government sponsored student loan, and I really needed the money. This gave me financial security — all I had to worry about was academics.  I will never forget the kindness and welcoming attitude of Betty Tipton.”


Written by Dwight Bachman