by Jess Clackum
Grace "Betty" Ashwell Lotowycz was born May 11, 1916 in New York City and raised in New Canaan, Connecticut. As a child, she was challenged by a illnesses which twice had her bedridden forcing her to learn to walk again.
Upon graduation from high school she enrolled in Vassar College and majored in Botany. While there, she participated in rock climbing and mountaineering activities and after graduation in 1938, she climbed the Swiss Alps. She later worked in the editorial office of Life magazine and as curatorial assistant at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
Having had a desire to fly since she was a child, inspired by her great-uncle who flew in France during WWI, and having read news articles about opportunities for women pilots, Betty decided to serve her country. She traveled to Pennsylvania on weekends to earn her pilot's license and joined the WASP in 1944 as a member of class 44-W-7. After graduation , she was stationed at Minter Field in Bakersfield, California where she served as a test pilot and ferried planes and cargo to air bases across the country.
After the WASP were disbanded in December 1944, she sought employment as a pilot but was told the public was not ready for women pilots. Instead she was offered a job as a flight attendant.
After the war, Betty married her husband Bill, a seaplane pilot. After living in Syria for two years, they moved back to the U.S. and settled on Long Island where they raised a family.
In the early 1960s Betty returned to a career in Botany. She established the Planting Fields Arboretum and served as its curator for 22 years, retiring in 1984.
An expert in Long Island flora, Betty often consulted with several conservation organizations well into her 80s and co-authored The Illustrated Field Guide to Shrubs and Woody Vines of Long Island. She also established the Long Island Botanical Society.
Though retired, Betty never really stopped working. She kept busy teaching classes, leading field trips and doing inventory for the botanical information bureau for the Arboretum.
Betty passed away on April 8, 2016, just a month shy of her 100th birthday. We celebrate her life and her life and her service to our country.