In memoriam: Betty Knox
By Laurie Meyers
Betty E. Knox, the 27th president of the American Counseling Association, passed away in December 2020. She was 86.
Colleagues and friends remember her as a passionate and powerful advocate who believed that school counseling was an essential part of the educational system. She was also a trailblazer.
Knox was only the fourth woman and one of the first school counselors to be elected as president of ACA—then called the American Personnel and Guidance Association. Before taking the helm in 1978-1979, Knox served as the president of the American School Counselor Association (ASCA), a former division of ACA.
It was at ASCA that Knox first formed lifelong professional and personal bonds with ACA past presidents Helen R. Washburn and Jean Thompson.
They and several other female ASCA members banded together in a de facto support—and encouragement—group as they sought doctorates at a time when many institutions refused to grant them to women.
Knox was in many ways the group “booster”—someone who was perennially optimistic, encouraging and always saw the good in others, says Thompson, also an ASCA past president.
These qualities, combined with her considerable knowledge and tenacity, earned her the respect of peers.
“I think she was a visionary,” says Washburn, who is also an ASCA past president. Knox was a firm proponent of counseling as an essential part of education and not “just an add on,” she continues.
Knox was a savvy advocate who understood that building connections with other educational organizations was essential to establishing school counseling as an active player in setting educational policy on the national level, Washburn says.
Knox’s passion for the profession wasn’t limited to school counseling.
Frank Burtnett, ACA’s former associate executive director, worked with many presidents dedicated to the association’s goals. Still, Knox, in particular, stood out for her fervent and steadfast commitment to “growing and improving the larger counseling profession.”
Knox faced her share of challenges—not only was she a woman, but a school counselor, amidst a governing council that was mostly male and historically composed of counselor educators, he explains. Although the association membership included many school counselors, that was changing as the profession sought licensure and focused on counselor education program accreditation, Burtnett adds.
“Betty was there during a time when ACA was going through a state of change in terms of who our members were and what are members did in the counseling world,” he says.
Knox took it all in stride, presiding over the governing council with an even, firm and fair hand, Burtnett says. He remembers her sitting calmly at the head of a long table of men, hands in her lap, ankles crossed, soliciting debate and listening.
Knox wasn’t a flamboyant presence, but she excelled at listening and had a sponge-like capacity for absorbing knowledge, says Burtnett.
Washburn agrees, adding that Knox was extremely articulate in her advocacy and always prepared with evidence to back her arguments.
“She could cite scripture and verse in terms of examples of the good works that school counselors were doing,” she says.
Burtnett, Washburn and Thompson all emphasize Knox’s professionalism and courtesy. Washburn adds that tremendous strength undergirded Knox’s natural grace.
“There was never anything wishy-washy about Betty,” she says. “She had strong views, and I think she used those qualities to advance the profession.”
Thelma Daley, an ACA and ASCA past president, agrees. Knox never compromised her strong core values and a commitment to the principles of ACA, she says.
These values included compassion and a strong belief in justice, Daley says.
“She believed in justice for all,” she emphasized. Her dedication to equality marked her as an outlier in a time well before widespread awareness of social justice issues, Daley continues.
She also credits Knox with bringing dignity, class and respect for the profession and those who practiced it.
These qualities—and her strong ties to family and community—garnered Knox the respect of her peers in North Carolina. A past president of both the North Carolina Counseling Association and the North Carolina School Counseling Association, Knox was dedicated to promoting the counseling profession not just on the national level but locally.
“She catalyzed counselors in her city, county and the state,” Daley says.
In the past, local groups had not had much of a voice at ACA. The North Carolina Counseling Association was in the vanguard of the “state branch movement,” says Burtnett.
In addition to her quartet of presidential roles, Knox was an ACA fellow and the founding director of the American Counseling Association Foundation.
After her term at ACA, Knox was a school counseling consultant for numerous local school boards and higher educational institutions. She also lent her expertise to the North Carolina State Department of Education and was a published author who contributed many articles to school counseling and educational journals.
After Knox retired, she devoted her time to community volunteer work, church and travel. She, Washburn and Thompson stayed in touch and periodically visited each other and took trips together.
Knox particularly relished her travel through Elderhostel (now called Road Scholar), a not-for-profit educational organization that offers tours that combine learning with local color.
“Betty just went everywhere,” Thompson says, adding that wherever Knox went, she met people—many of whom became friends.
Knox was a devout member of her local Baptist church in Raleigh, where she was an ordained deacon, a chancel choir soloist and a teacher and director of the Sunday school program.
Thompson and Washburn both describe Knox as a role model—and a dear friend. “We were like family,” Thompson says.
Knox is survived by her daughter, Joy Lynne Knox Fairchild.
A private graveside ceremony was held at Gaston Memorial Park in Gastonia, N.C. At Knox’s request, no other services will be conducted.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the John Jackson Knox, Jr, Endowed Memorial Academic Scholarship Fund at the Lenoir-Rhyne University Development Office, 625 7th Avenue NE, Hickory, NC 28601.
Read more about Knox’s life at her obituary: dignitymemorial.com/obituaries/raleigh-nc/betty-knox-9940023