Betsy E. Parsons

SOUTH PORTLAND – Betsy E. Parsons, 65, of South Portland, died peacefully surrounded by family and friends at Gosnell Memorial Hospice House on Sept. 5, 2019, due to complications of MDS. Born in Boston, Mass., raised in Chicago and Streator, IL, she developed a passion for music and social justice, nurtured by her parents. She shared these passions with classmates, teachers, and colleagues wherever she learned and taught, as a teenager at Streator High School, throughout her undergraduate work at Grinnell and Oberlin Colleges, her graduate and advanced studies at Brown and Harvard Universities, until the end of her life. Betsy taught English for 30 years at Portland and Deering High Schools. In 1996, she helped to found the Southern Maine Chapter of GLSEN, the Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network, in order to make schools safe for students, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. She led the way for LGBT public school teachers by coming out in 1998. Betsy was a leader for democracy and a passionate defender of public schools and public educators. She channeled a fierce love for and defense of the United States’ Constitutional Republic.A fearless and relentless advocate for civil justice, Betsy received many awards and honors, including the Gerda Haas Award for Excellence in Human Rights Education and Leadership from the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine, in June 2014.She was recognized in May of 2019 with a Legislative Sentiment issued by the Senate and House of Representatives of the State of Maine, praising her leadership in supporting education of LGBTQ students and helping to found GLSEN. Also a national leader in fighting for LGBTQ rights, she is featured in “The Book of Pride: LGBTQ Leaders Who Changed the World” by Mason Funk, published in 2019. A courageous activist, Betsy worked diligently for marriage equality and equality for all. She was a brilliant writer and a woman of great depth and compassion. We have lost one of our staunchest fighters for human rights. Betsy will be dearly missed by her parents, Dr. Robert L. and Beverly C. (Pettengill) Parsons of Greencastle, Ind.; and her siblings, William of Seattle, Wash., Sarah of Seattle, Wash., Susan of Arcata, Calif., and Scott (Michele Villinski) of Greencastle, Ind. Betsy’s seven nieces and nephews will always remember her unwavering support, acceptance, and love for them. She fostered in them a sense of wonder for the natural world, building fairy houses and cairns on the islands and rocky shores of Maine, as well as kayaking Maine lakes, communing with loons she protected in her work with the DNR’s citizen-scientist program. She instilled curiosity and mystery in the children of her family through storytelling, finding sweet surprises from Mama Dinosaur and the Magic Pitcher. Betsy leaves behind a multitude of treasured friends. She was the adored caregiver to her beloved felines, Will and Hawthorne. Among Betsy’s many gifts was the ability to pay attention, to listen, hear and see the struggles of others. As a result, she was an effective community servant who positively affected the quality of the day through volunteer efforts to help the disenfranchised and those seeking asylum. Betsy was a powerful resource for LGBTQ youth in crisis, supported OUT Maine’s suicide prevention efforts, and saved countless lives.Long known for her positive outlook on life and her sense of humor, Betsy loved to laugh. She lived a life imbued with joy which moved through her and dispersed from her like seeds of lupine. She had an abiding love for Maine, especially Portland, Longfellow’s “beautiful town that is seated by the sea.” Betsy once wrote of seeing along Maine roads “vast swatches of vibrant, resonant lupine blossom, purple spiky loveliness; all that beauty, sprightliness and hope sent telepathically to you.”Music and spirituality sustained Betsy throughout her life. She sang for many seasons with Women in Harmony, attended Allen Avenue UU Church, and belonged to her cherished Spiritual Enrichment Group. Mary Oliver, a favorite poet of Betsy’s asks: “Have I lived enough?Have I loved enough?Have I considered Right Action enough, have I come to any conclusion? Have I experienced happiness with sufficient gratitude? Have I endured loneliness with grace?”To all these questions, Betsy would answer, Yes. In Betsy’s own words: “I believe that we are here for love, wonder and gratitude – for ourselves, for each other, for our mother the earth, and for the mystery of the universe. I believe that most of what is real is unseen.” We members of the Parsons Family thank all of Betsy’s beloved community. A memorial service will be held at First Parish Portland Unitarian Universalist Church at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019. Memories and condolences may be shared at In lieu of flowers,memorial gifts in Betsy’s name can be made to:OUT Maine( or:Greater Portland Family Promise ( or:Women in Harmony( or:Aplastic Anemia & MDS International Foundation (

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