Betty Marston Zolly, 88, passed away on May 4, 2023 in Lakewood, CO, following a brief struggle with pancreatic cancer.
Born on December 14, 1934 in the small western North Carolina town of Old Fort, Betty was the third of five children. She graduated from Old Fort High School and Appalachian State Teachers College (now Appalachian State University) with certifications in history and library science. After graduation, she taught high school history for three years in the Gastonia, NC schools.
In the summer of 1959, following the untimely death of her mother, Betty made a bold move that would change her life’s course. Recognizing her desire to experience other places and cultures, she left the U.S. alone and arrived in Germany to teach high school history to the dependent children of military service members stationed at Bremerhaven Army Airfield. After two years she requested a new posting to Japan, where she was assigned to the base school at Camp Zama, outside of Tokyo, as a school librarian. It was there that she caught the eye of a popular history and English teacher, who finally won a first date with her late into the fall semester of 1961. After only two weeks of dating, Alban “Al” Zolly proposed to Betty. Al, a son of Italian immigrants, often joked that while he was instantly drawn to the pretty librarian with the southern accent, it was Betty’s masterful preparation of a full southern-style Thanksgiving meal on a 2-burner range in the tiny communal kitchen of the bachelor officers’ quarters that cemented his decision to marry her. They wed on February 21, 1962 in the chapel at Camp Zama.
In the summer of 1963, Betty and Al departed Japan as passengers on an Italian freighter, providing them with an adventurous, yet affordable means of seeing port cities in Asia and the Middle East on their way to their new teaching assignments. They arrived in Verdun, France, that August, where Betty again served as a school librarian and was known for her strict codes of silence and decorum in the library. Al often said that he had no need to send any misbehaving students in his classroom to the principal’s office, finding it more effective to dispatch them to his wife in the school library. Following the decision of the French government to close U.S. military installations in France, Betty and Al transferred to their final assignment at the U.S. Army base in Kaiserslautern, Germany in the fall of 1964.
In 1966, Betty and Al decided to return to the States, and accepted teaching positions in the Arlington, Va. and Alexandria, Va. public school systems, respectively, near Al’s hometown of Washington, D.C. Their daughter, Lisa, was born in 1967, followed by their son, Matthew, in 1968. Upon the birth of her son, Betty retired from teaching to stay at home with her children. Still a teacher at heart, Betty became a volunteer docent at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, where she gave tours during the hours when her children were in school. She returned to the workforce in 1978 as an administrative assistant for several D.C. and Virginia area law firms, including Stauffer & Dorn and Stauffer & Abraham. In 1992 she became the receptionist for northern Virginia home builders Miller & Smith, where she worked until her retirement at the young age of 83.
Betty found herself at a crossroads in 1992 after the sudden and unexpected death of her husband. Seeking a new focus for her energy and talents, she trained to become a volunteer docent at the Washington National Cathedral, and spent the next 26 years as a Sunday guide, where she enthusiastically provided tours that encompassed the history, art, and Gothic architecture of the building. Even after more than two decades as a docent, Betty continuously sought out new materials and details to enhance her tours, and truly enjoyed sharing her knowledge with visitors to the Cathedral.
In July 2022, Betty embarked on one last adventure, selling her Lake Barcroft Virginia home of 50 years to join her daughter in Colorado. Having recently fallen for the American West through trips to Santa Fe, NM, Moab, UT, and the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, Betty enjoyed sitting in her Adirondack chair under the shade of a maple tree, reading a book and marveling at the mountain views of Colorado’s Front Range.
Betty was preceded in death by her husband Alban Zolly, her parents Kermit and Virginia “Jennie” Stirewalt Marston, and her brothers, Charles, Jack, and Kermit Jr. “Tinker” Marston. She is survived by her daughter Lisa of Lakewood, CO; her son Matthew and his wife Ashley, of Houston, TX; her sister, Janet Abplanalp, of Raleigh, NC; four nephews; and three nieces.
Betty will be interred with her husband in the Columbarium at Arlington National Cemetery at a future date.
Friends wishing to honor Betty’s memory are invited to contribute to her favorite charity, World Central Kitchen.
Lisa, Matt, and Ashley would like to extend their personal thanks to the nurses, doctors, and staff at St. Anthony Hospital in Lakewood, CO, for their outstanding care for Betty during several hospitalizations, and also to the phenomenal nurses, CNAs, pastors, social workers, and doctors of the Denver Hospice, whose compassionate care allowed Betty to pass peacefully at home.