Betty Ann Townes, 69, longtime political and community activist

Townes
Townes
Posted: December 11, 2013

AMONG THE challenges of living in Philadelphia for Betty Ann Townes were the violence of the streets and the wild and woolly arena of Philadelphia Democratic politics.

The dangerous streets claimed the lives of her son and other relatives.

Philadelphia politics had her embroiled in several battles over the years, including elections that she was sure she had won, but was counted out by what she called the corrupt counting of votes.

Betty Ann Townes, who died Dec. 3 at age 69, had to summon all her fortitude and faith in the late '90s when she was dealt a double dose of pain.

Her son, Tyrone Carter, a Philadelphia Housing Authority police officer, was shot and killed in Logan the night of Nov. 17, 1996, and three months later, her husband, Willie O. Townes, died.

Although stricken by her son's murder, she said at the time that she was growing accustomed to the city's violence.

"I had two brothers murdered on the streets of Philadelphia," she told the Daily News after the slaying. "And it's just something about living here in these times. I just wish there was some way they could stop the violence. It's just hurting too many people."

A lesser but also hurtful kind of violence that tested her mettle was the melee that was Philadelphia Democratic politics.

In 1997, she thought she had won the Democratic primary for Traffic Court judge. But a recount showed she had lost by 12 votes to Fortunato Perri Sr. She charged that the vote results were cooked by her political enemies. She sued, but lost.

Betty was leader of the 12th Ward in Germantown for six years when, in June 1994, a ward election was held - marked by an uproar that led to a fistfight - and she was defeated by real-estate agent Gregory Paulmier.

Or was she?

She said not, and she and her supporters held a separate ward meeting on the sidewalk. It didn't do her any good, and Paulmier became the recognized ward leader.

U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, chairman of the Democratic City Committee, waxed philosophical when asked about the fight. "We're Democrats, we're used to fighting. We'll weed it out. These are hot-tempered elections because they're all neighbors."

Betty, a former aide to former Register of Wills Ronald R. Donatucci, lost a bid to take his job in the 1995 primary. She didn't question the results.

Her death was a shock to family and friends. She had not been ill, a friend of the family said. Betty Ann, a former restaurant owner, devoted churchwoman and family matriarch, lived in Germantown.

She was a former member of the Pennsylvania Democratic Committee, worked in the campaigns of several Philadelphia political figures and was a longtime community activist.

She owned a popular soul-food restaurant, Knappy Knicky's, at Wayne Avenue and Seymour Street in Germantown, and ran a culinary-arts-training program next door.

Betty was born in Mount Holly, Va., the fourth child and oldest daughter of Deacon Elton Roane and Deaconess Lucille Roane. The family moved to Philadelphia in 1947.

She received her GED from Martin Luther King High School and went on to Temple University, where she received a bachelor's degree in social work.

She met Willie O. Townes in 1969, and they were married in 1979.

Betty worked with state Rep. Rosita C. Youngblood to save Happy Hollow Playground, on Wayne Avenue in Germantown. She was a political analyst for the late state Rep. David P. Richardson, and worked on the campaigns of former mayors John F. Street and W. Wilson Goode Sr.

She was an active member of Christian Stronghold Baptist Church, where she served on numerous ministries and was a Bible school and Sunday school teacher. She was also a block captain and worked in other community causes.

Betty enjoyed traveling, and one of her fondest accomplishments was taking her mother on a train adventure. Among her favorite pastimes was playing the board game Trouble.

She is survived by two sons, Lawrence and Dennis Townes; three daughters, Annette, Linda and Barbara Townes; four brothers, Richard, Robert, Larry and Mark Roane; two sisters, Arlene and Shirley Roane; and a host of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Services: 11 a.m. tomorrow at Christian Stronghold Baptist Church, 4701 Lancaster Ave. Friends may call at 9 a.m. Burial will be in Ivy Hill Cemetery.

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