Cover photo for Betty  Leach 's Obituary
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1923 Betty 2022

Betty Leach

August 17, 1923 — March 13, 2022

Betty Carroll Leach, a resident of Durham for the last 67 years, died on March 13, 2022. She was 98 years old.


Born in Port Arthur, Texas, on August 17, 1923, she was christened Ettie Elizabeth Carroll after her mother, Ettie Augusta Hooker. Before long, she became “Betty”, and to those in the know, “Queenie”. She was the oldest daughter of Ettie and James William Carroll, and the elder sister of their second daughter, Mary Alice. Betty’s mother’s family included several legendary characters in Texas history: pioneer settlers who fought in the Alamo, original settlers of the city of Houston, and even the state’s first millionaire, a lumber magnate. Betty’s father was an orphaned third-generation Irishman originally from Philadelphia, and he served as an Engineer for Gulf Oil in Port Arthur, where their refineries were based. 


Betty received her B.S. in 1947 from Texas State College for Women in Denton, where she studied Chemistry. Her studies were interrupted by the outbreak of World War II, and during her junior year of college, her family moved to Washington, D.C., when her father was loaned to the US Department of the Interior to serve in the petroleum administration for the War. While living in D.C., Betty served in a top secret cryptography and decoding department in Arlington Hall, as one of the so-called “Code Girls”. In 2017, a book was published describing this effort, entitled: “Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II”. A review of the book tells the story: “While their brothers, boyfriends, and husbands took up arms, these women went to the nation’s capital with sharpened pencils–and even sharper minds–taking on highly demanding Top Secret work, involving complex math and linguistics. Running early computers and poring over reams of encrypted enemy messages, they worked tirelessly in makeshift buildings in Arlington and Washington, D.C., from 1942 to 1945…Ordered by military officials never to reveal their war work, these women and their accomplishments were all but written out of history until one author, Liza Mundy, discovered a cache of recently declassified documents at the archives of the NSA…” Betty dutifully concealed her involvement in the effort for most of her life, until she finally revealed her participation in her 90s after the book’s publication.


Betty met her husband, Richard Heald Leach (“Dick”) while living in Washington, D.C. She and Dick came to know each other as Betty would offer him a ride in her car to the Capitol each day, where Dick served as a Sergeant in the U.S. Army Security Agency. She and Dick were married at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington, D.C. on Labor Day in 1947. They then moved to Princeton, N.J., where Dick received his Ph.D. in Politics. Thereafter they moved to Atlanta, Ga., where they lived from 1949-1955, and had their son, Chris, in 1951. In 1955, they moved to Durham, N.C., where Dick joined the Duke faculty in the Political Science Department. 


Soon after their arrival in Durham, Betty became one of the founding members of the Duke Hospital Auxiliary, which supports hospital programs through volunteer hours and fundraising, in particular towards raising the level of patient care and comfort. As part of this founding team, Betty was instrumental in establishing the “Pink Smock” gift shops operated by the Duke Hospital Auxiliary. She grew the Pink Smock from a simple snack cart into four retail stores, which over the years have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the hospital to support hospital projects and patient care. In one article published in 1994 recognizing Betty’s years of service, John Robinette, then associate chief operating officer for Duke University Medical Center, said, “All of the volunteers are great, but when I think of Hospital Auxiliary, I immediately think of Betty Leach… She is a tireless volunteer who is also a visionary. She is a woman who always sees the need for patient services. The number of hours Betty has volunteered is extraordinary. She truly sets an example for others to follow.” Betty continued to serve as a volunteer daily well into her 90s, zooming around the hospital between the gift shops and earning herself the pet name of the “Energizer Bunny”. Her more than 50 years of service certainly make her one of the most prodigious Duke volunteers of all-time.


Dick’s professorship at Duke afforded them many opportunities for travel, and some of Betty’s favorite memories were living abroad during his numerous sabbaticals and teaching appointments. In 1967, he served as a Fulbright lecturer at the University of Amsterdam, taking them to Holland for a year. In 1975 and 1983, they lived in Australia while he served as a Visiting Scholar at the Australian National University in Canberra. They also traveled extensively through Canada while he served as the Director of Duke’s Canadian Studies Center. Some of Betty’s most treasured and oft-spoken memories were from these special years.


Betty adored her life in Durham and the many friendships she formed in her 67 years in residence, especially within the university community, the Duke Hospital, and at the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church. Betty is survived by her granddaughter, Christine Elizabeth Anderson (Tiburon, Calif.), her grandson, Sean Richard Leach (Beverly, Mass.), her four great-grandchildren, Wesley, Wyatt, Luke and Violet, and her nephews, James Rowe (Brenham, Texas) and David Rowe (Cannon, Ga.). She joins her beloved husband, Dick, her son, Chris, her golden retriever, Hobey, and many dear friends and family members who have gone before her.


In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Duke Hospital Children’s Center or the Emily K. Center in Durham, N.C. Her funeral arrangements are with the Hall-Wynne Funeral Service. 

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Service Schedule

Past Services


Tuesday, March 15, 2022

11:00am - 12:00 pm (Eastern time)

Immaculate Conception Catholic Church

810 West Chapel Hill Street, Durham, NC 27701

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