Obituary: Betty Webb

Co-founder of Foothill Country Day School, longtime Claremonter

Betty (Docker) Webb, wife of the late Howell Webb and co-founder of Foothill Country Day School, died June 5 from heart failure after 97 full years of life.

Born and raised in Philadelphia, Betty Docker moved to Southern California in 1945 and took a position teaching English at the Westlake School for Girls in Los Angeles. In those days, Westlake co-hosted dances with then all-boys Webb School in Claremont. Webb School’s assistant headmaster Howell Webb was a frequent chaperone at the dances. While it is probable Betty and Howell crossed paths as faculty supervisors at these events, it wasn’t until they separately attended a tennis and social mixer organized by Westlake’s headmistress that the vivacious Ms. Docker and the dashing Mr. Webb saw each other in an entirely different light, her family shared.

It was during the drive from Claremont that Howell prophetically proclaimed to a friend that, on that afternoon, he was sure to meet the woman he would eventually marry. A little over a year later, in 1949, Betty Docker and Howell Webb married and soon moved onto the Webb School campus to begin their new lives together.

The early years for the young Webbs were happy and taken up with boarding school life. Mrs. Webb contributed to the myriad needs unique to a boarding environment, focusing on care for the senior boys living in the Alamo, a dorm still in operation today. During this time, Mr. Webb taught Latin and fulfilled the duties of assistant headmaster and admissions director under his father, Thompson.

At the same time, America had emerged from World War II firmly established as an economic and military world power. The country was full of seemingly endless opportunity and optimism. Jobs were plentiful, and couples were having babies.

In 1952, Mr. and Mrs. Webb welcomed their first child, Robert, adding to the national count that would total almost 4 million births that year.

Subdivisions were springing up throughout Southern California (many of them on former citrus groves) and, as the Baby Boomers reached school age, public school districts tried to manage overcrowded classrooms by going to split sessions in response to the post-war population explosion. With concerns growing over class size and shorter school days, parents began to discuss alternatives to public education.

In the spring of 1954, Mr. and Mrs. Webb were invited to join a group of concerned and motivated parents in Covina who had begun the planning for an independent school in Claremont. The new school would feature small classes, a stimulating and challenging academic experience and, above all, a greater concern for a child’s moral development, the family said.

It wasn’t long before the meetings were moved to the Webb’s home and a board was formed, articles of incorporation were drawn up, and mothers were giving teas (it was the 1950s, after all) to recruit prospective families.

A section of citrus grove near the corner of Harrison and San Antonio (now Towne) avenues was purchased and prepared as the future site for Foothill Country Day School. The Webbs enlisted the help of parents who were electricians, carpenters, plumbers, and contractors to guide the construction process. One founding parent owned a horse, and that horse (Determine) went on to win the 1954 Kentucky Derby, enabling the board to secure the loan (and Mr. and Mrs. Webb’s dreams) for the unbuilt and unproven school.

Caring for toddler-son Robert and entering the late stages of pregnancy with her second child, Mrs. Webb oversaw or participated in every aspect of bringing Foothill into being. By opening day, September 20, 1954, the school had 88 students. Daughter Betian was born the next day, September 21, 1954. On two consecutive days she successfully brought an infant school and an infant daughter into the world.

With two young children in tow, she threw herself into her life as mother and founding partner. In addition to her designation as Foothill’s first mother, she served as the first librarian, joined brother-in-law Jack Webb as one of the School’s English teachers, and was the first teacher at Foothill to integrate a new device called the Macintosh computer into her classroom.

In 1986, Mr. and Mrs. Webb retired and moved to Mt. San Antonio Gardens, a retirement community across the street from the school. Mrs. Webb would live the rest of her life at the Gardens, establishing deep and devoted relationships with admiring staff and fellow residents over the years.

In addition to sharing Gardens life with her husband, she had her beloved Westie, Angus, followed later in life by her precious Havanese, Tia, to join her on walks throughout the verdant Garden grounds.

Mrs. Webb lived all of her adult life in Claremont.

“She would be the first to say she gained much more than she gave to the town where she raised her children, developed a wide and loving circle of friends, and founded Foothill Country Day School with husband Howell,” her family shared. “But what greater gift to a community than a thriving school that seeks to improve the lives of the children entrusted to its care?”

Her son Robert and daughter Betian survive her.

The Foothill family welcomes the community to a celebration of Mrs. Webb’s life on Saturday, October 6 from 10 a.m. to noon at Foothill Country Day School, 1035 Harrison Ave., Claremont, CA 91711.

The ceremony will include tributes by family and friends and singing by Foothill students. Guests will be hosted with refreshments and opportunities for sharing memories immediately following in the Betty Webb L

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