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Betty J. Ott, society reporter, active volunteer

April 30, 1922 – July 21, 2016

Betty Johnson Ott, who chronicled the activities of the area’s most prominent citizens as a society reporter and feature writer for the Buffalo Courier-Express, died July 21 in the Bristol Home after suffering from congestive heart failure. She was 94.

Born in Buffalo, the former Betty Virginia Johnson was a direct descendant of frontiersman Davy Crockett. She attended School 56 and was a 1940 graduate of the Buffalo Seminary. She earned an associate’s degree from Stephens College in Columbia, Mo., in 1942 and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Buffalo in 1982.

The mother of four, she worked as a sales clerk and sportswear buyer for the L.L. Berger department store in the 1940s and again in the 1960s. From 1959 to 1968, she was a clerk for Rochester Pittsburgh Coal Co.

Mrs. Ott joined the Courier-Express in 1968 and immersed herself in topics she wrote about. She was a clown with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, packing into the tiny clown car and riding an elephant in the center ring. After she rode a killer whale at Marineland, she was tapped to become a contestant on the network TV show, “To Tell the Truth.”

She continued with the Courier-Express until it closed in 1982, then for more than 20 years was a sales clerk at Pitt Petri, the upscale gift shop, where she had a devoted clientele. She also operated Betty’s Bed & Breakfast in her home on Jersey Street from 1989 to 2000.

A lifelong member of Westminster Presbyterian Church, she was an elder and a longtime Sunday school teacher.

She was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Landmark Society of Western New York and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery and was a sustaining member of the Junior League of Buffalo. She also was a longtime season subscriber to the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, the Kavinoky Theatre and the Irish Classical Theatre.

For more than 50 years, she celebrated the Christmas season by dressing in a Santa Claus suit, complete with fluffy white beard, and brought gifts from a sack over her shoulder to homes, schools and businesses on the city’s West Side.

For her volunteer work, she was honored by the International Institute and the local chapters of the Epilepsy Association and the American Lung Association. In 2013, she received a Community Service Award from the Network of Religious Communities for her work with children at Westminster Presbyterian Church.

She also enjoyed camping, hiking and cross-country skiing and traveled extensively abroad.

Her husband, Fred A., died in 1968.

Survivors include a son, William R., two grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.

A memorial service will be held at 4 p.m. next Monday in Westminster Presbyterian Church, 724 Delaware Ave.

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