Betty Wold Johnson

Remembering Philanthropist Betty Wold Johnson

Betty Wold Johnson touched the lives of thousands through her philanthropic work. She supported the arts, medicine, and science, all in the hopes of building a better tomorrow for those less fortunate. Her passing on May 5th, 2020, at the age of 99, reminded many of the numerous contributions she has made to society. Her life was rich in love, and she left behind a legacy of giving back to your community in whatever way possible. She was a long-time contributor to arts, education, and healthcare initiatives in New York and New Jersey, and her contributions will continue to live on to enrich these communities.

Many may recognize Betty as the “First Lady of the Jets”. Her youngest son, Christopher Johnson, is the CEO of the New York Jets, and her eldest son, Woody Johnson, is the United States Ambassador to Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Football was an important part of her life from a young age, and that passion for the sport would remain strong throughout her life.  She was actively involved in her children’s lives, even as adults, and offered hands-on support to the Jets team whenever possible. She built close friendships with many of the team players, who she lovingly referred to as her grandchildren, and they often stayed in touch years after the players had moved on from the team. Betty touched the lives of everyone who got to meet her and made it her life’s work to do what she could to help others.

Early Life

Betty Wold was raised in Minnesota. She often recounted stories of her childhood in which she and her father, Karl Christian Wold, would attend the Golden Gophers Games or listen to them on the radio when they were unable to physically attend. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, she enlisted in the Navy’s WAVE program (Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Services). Stationed at Corpus Christi, Texas, she helped to train pilots through flight simulators at the Naval Air Station in Rhode Island. She later fell in love and married Robert Wood Johnson III, grandson of one of the founders of the well-known brand Johnson & Johnson. Together, the couple raised five children until Robert died in 1970. In 1978, she married Douglas Bushnell, who died in 2007.

Her Contribution to the Arts

Betty Wold loved the art world and believed that the arts truly free the spirit. Unfortunately, the arts are often the first programs cut from schools facing budget constraints, and she made it a mission to support art accessibility. In 2008, she donated $11 million to New Jersey Performing Arts Center, the single largest individual gift in the center’s history. She also actively supported many different Princeton and New York art and science institutions. Some of these include Princeton Public Library, Nature Conservatory of New Jersey, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and McCarter Theater, to which she donated $500,000 in honor of Emily Mann’s 30-year career as the artistic director. Betty was a firm believer that the arts should be accessible to everyone, regardless of social or economic standing.

Contributions to Healthcare

Betty Wold’s philanthropic endeavors crossed many different fields and services, including health care. She was one of the leading funders of the rebuilding of the Princeton Hospital. She also played a large role in Project Renewal, a nonprofit organization that provides aid to vulnerable New Yorkers, including men and women experiencing homelessness, mental health disorders, and substance abuse. It was important to Betty that everyone had access to affordable health care, and this group offered mobile health services along with helping people secure jobs and housing. Betty was a lead supporter of the annual Jets Kickoff Luncheon, created to benefit the Lupus Research Alliance in their mission to prevent, treat, and ultimately cure lupus.

Contributions to Education

Betty dedicated much of her life to supporting education in as many facets as possible. She was a large supporter of Princeton Day School, where she served as a trustee. In her time at the school, she underwrote several major initiatives to preserve the program, support faculty development, and improve the students’ experience. Many of these initiatives are still implemented to this day, including the STEAM program that offers interdisciplinary courses in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. She even donated her Princeton home to the Hun School to be converted to a headmaster’s house.

Remembering Betty Wold

Betty Wold dedicated her career to philanthropic work in the arts, sciences, and health fields. She was a major contributor to Princeton, supporting her New York and New Jersey community in various ways throughout her life. She provided funding for numerous programs and initiatives to help others in all walks of life. Betty Wold’s work serves as a foundation for continued support and programming throughout the U.S., so her work will continue to benefit countless others far into the future.

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