“Look at little Black Shirley Temple,” her mother and close relatives would say as they humored little Betty Jean whose rounded face, bright eyes, and sassy personality reminded them of the tap-dancing Hollywood starlet. Caught in the middle of seven children, she would grow to become one her family’s brightest little stars.
Just four years into the Great Depression on February 27th,1933, Betty Jean Smith was born to Mary and Jim Smith in Shreveport, Louisiana, a border town on the northernmost tip of the state. Her siblings included Juanita, Mary, Willie Mae, Raymond, Herbert, and Ausbie. Betty was the second youngest girl but older than all her brothers whom she helped care for during her teenage years. Later, she would grow to be very close to her grandmother, Lula, who became the first person Betty ever introduced to the Church of God in Christ after joining the denomination as a teenager.
As the granddaughter of a former slave, Betty became part of the first generation of High School graduates in her generation. She received her diploma from Booker T. Washington High School in her hometown.
Escaping the perils of the Jim Crow South and in search of better opportunities for African Americans, Betty took her young son, Jeffrey, to Los Angeles. There, she worked in beauty, hat making, food service, and housekeeping. She would also meet her first husband, Harvey E. Brown, a pastor. Together, they led a growing congregation in South Los Angeles called the Tabernacle of Faith Church of God in Christ. They had one child, Paula, and doted on her endlessly. Betty was said to not have known she was pregnant and was sure she had caught the Hong Kong Flu that had been spreading since 1968. In 1969, Betty was most certainly pregnant and welcomed her miracle baby during her eldest son’s tour in Vietnam.
Betty had asked Jesus Christ to save her when she was eighteen years old so she was not a stranger to the gospel taught in the Church of God in Christ once she met her husband. As a young woman, she had also learned to play the piano and continued doing so as a pastor’s wife. Betty was known to shout often in during service and would get up from the piano to praise God while the sprit was high. She didn’t mind giving all the glory to God speaking in tongues, worshipping him with her voice, sending her prayers to heaven, and testifying the goodness of Jesus at every opportunity granted to her.
Anyone that knew Betty knew that she just loved the Lord and dedicated her life to him. As a missionary, she preached about perfection within the Lord and how it could be achieved through prayer and sacrifice. She instilled in her children to obey the teachings of Jesus Christ and that salvation was the only way toward heaven.
Besides her work in church, Betty loved to make clothes. For many years, her sewing machine was the second most popular place you could find her at home. The whir of the machine could be heard for hours, but from it, she was always the proud new owner of a dress or suit. Betty made clothing for weddings, church, and other special occasions in her spare time.
After her husband, Harvey Brown, passed away in 1981, Betty would re-marry in 1997 to Lewis Johnson. Leading Tabernacle Church of God in Christ until his death in 2013, Betty became the pastor’s wife. Beginning her journey as a pianist, Betty continued her missionary work at Tabernacle. She encouraged that the saints give God their best and live according to his Word. Betty also encouraged the saints with her voice and blessed many souls with songs such as, “In Just a Little While,” “His Eye Is on the Sparrow,” “Surely,” “Jonah,” and “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” Her mezzo soprano enthralled anyone within a distance. She sang honestly and earnestly. Her primary audience was heaven and the ears she most hoped would listen in belonged to Jesus.
Betty was known as a lady of literally many hats. She enjoyed wearing different hat styles, hat pins, and matching suits with a brilliant smile to go along. While en route to the Church of God in Christ Convocations in the mid-90s, her granddaughter, Destiny, remembered Betty barely being able to tote all her hat boxes. Lewis and Destiny each had two hands so they would have to share the load. She enjoyed keeping up with fashion trends even if she didn’t take part in the them. It was fun for her to look at how styles changed for the youth throughout her lifetime.
Of all her accomplishments, Betty was most proud of her family. She was everyone’s cheerleader when it came to obtaining an education especially beyond high school. Her grandchildren visited her daily. While growing up, they learned to keep such laws such as not running in her living room, not eating outside the kitchen, and not coming in and out the house letting flies in. After her own children grew up, she took part in caring for her grandchildren. Besides discipline, she encouraged that they also live a life like Christ and get involved in their church through giving their time. Accordingly, three of her grandchildren followed her footsteps in music.
On August 12th, 2020, Betty Jean Smith a mother, grandmother, sister, aunt, and friend passed away peacefully surrounded by her family. She is survived by one sister, Mary, and two brothers, Raymond and Ausbie. She leaves behind two children, a daughter in law, and son in law, Jeffrey, Jacqueline “Jackie”, Paula, and Garth “Charles”. She leaves behind her grandchildren and their spouses. Her ten grandchildren include Jeffrey Jr, Aaron, Michael, Mark, Daniel, Destiny, Eric Jr, Jalyssa, Jaunell, and Zedikiah. She also leaves behind seven great-grandchildren including one on the way.
Her family will always remember her smile, her southern charm, and her dedication to God. Given eighty-seven years, her family can say that she lived them well and truly embodied the role of a “good and faithful servant.”
Her closest family regrets to say “goodbye” but are at peace that God has said “welcome.” Her memory will live on in our hearts and her love will guide us on the rest of this journey of understanding.
We called her Mother, Mom, and Gamma. God called her his child. With his arms wide open for her, we will always remember a life well lived.
Well done, Betty Jean. Well done.
“Now, you can talk about the world, you lose me. But when you start talking about Jesus, you can’t lose me.”
Betty Jean Smith
To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of Betty Jean Brown, please visit our floral store.