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Bea Notley, formerly of Tulsa, residing in Shawnee KS since 2001, died on July 31, 2022 in Shawnee. She “soldiered on” (one of her favorite expressions) for more than 101 years! Her remarkable wit, wisdom, and kindness touched many lives.
A first-generation American, she was born on Dec 13, 1920 in Detroit MI to Scottish immigrants Charles Robbie Low and Beatrice Watt Low. She grew up endowed with shining auburn hair, a quick mind, and an exceptionally good moral compass.
After graduating from Detroit’s Cooley High in 1938, Bea enrolled at Western College for Women in Oxford OH. In December of her Senior year, a shocking news flash came over the radio: “The Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor!” The country was at war.
She stayed on to graduate from Western in the Spring of 1942, earning a double major in Latin and English Literature. But like every young American, she was eager to play a part in the war effort. Knitting socks for the boys overseas wouldn’t cut it. Bea had a better plan: ENLIST!
She joined the Women’s Army Corps, a new branch of military service created just for women. Her straight-laced parents were outraged, of course. “No proper young lady joins the Army!”
Women were kept out of combat in WWII. Instead, it was their duty to keep ordnance and supplies moving. Stationed on close-in bases, the WACs could quickly requisition and record shipments urgently needed by the fighting forces pushing ahead. Their work was, in fact, vital to the war effort.
On completing basic training at Ft. Des Moines IA, Sgt. Beatrice Low was deployed to the South Pacific, arriving in Australia in the Spring of 1944. From there, her unit followed Allied forces pushing north toward Japan; first to a captured base in New Guinea, then to Leyte Island, and finally to the bombed-out city of Manilla. Living conditions were primitive, but the WACs soldiered on.
On August 6, 1945, the US dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Three days later, another fell on Nagasaki. WWII was over.
Bea had had quite enough of military life by then. From Manilla, she boarded a troop transport ship back to the US, where she received an honorable discharge. Her father and mother were so relieved to have her safely home they even forgave her for joining the Army!
A grateful nation welcomed the returning soldiers with the GI Bill, allowing them to attend college tuition free. Bea jumped at the chance, moving from Detroit to Ann Arbor to pursue a Master of Arts Degree in History at the University of Michigan (completed in 1949.)
Among the other veterans on campus that Fall was a dark-eyed Navy man named Don Notley who was finishing up his Master’s in Geology. Spotting an auburn-haired co-ed at an evening lecture, he boldly took a seat beside her. One thing led to another (as they often do), and Beatrice Low and Donald Notley were married in Ann Arbor in February 1947. They’d only known each other three months!
That summer, the couple moved to Shawnee OK, where the booming oil industry created a high demand for Don’s expertise as a sub-surface geologist. Bea gave birth to their first child, Charles, in February 1948.
Oil wasn’t the only thing booming. The babies kept coming: Laura in 1950, Marianne in 1952. Regaining consciousness after her third c-section, Bea’s first question to the doctor wasn’t, “Is it a boy or a girl?” but, “Did you remember to tie my tubes?” Three children were, apparently, enough.
Bea would soldier on as a stay-at-home mom for nine years, a role she found exquisitely dull. The family pulled up stakes numerous times – moving from Shawnee OK to Lafayette LA, then to Tulsa OK, then Roswell NM, and finally back to Tulsa – wherever Don was transferred in search of new oil deposits.
The year 1957 found them living in Tulsa. With all three kids now in school, Bea could finally rejoin the adult world and make use of her education. She wasted no time landing a job at a nearby public high school. The legendary Mrs. Notley taught Latin and English in Tulsa public schools for 23 years, retiring from Edison High in 1984. “T-town” was (and still is), a bastion of Bible-Belt conservatism. Most students there had never met anyone like Mrs. Notley. She was not only a Liberal, but a Non-Believer. Yet even the most wary came to admire her wisdom, humor, and the way she treated everyone with respect.
Bea challenged and inspired countless young minds; many she taught remained loyal fans decades after her retirement. To her teaching colleagues and beloved former students, she bids you Ave Atque Vale.
While in Tulsa, Bea was an active member of All Souls Unitarian Church and a long-time volunteer for Meals on Wheels, the Girl Scout Regional Council, Gilcrease Art Museum, and the Central Library Book Fair. She was a life member of the Girl Scouts, the VFW, as well as the Western College and University of Michigan alumni associations. Bea’s other interests and service to her community went far beyond these, of course.
She was an avid world traveler. She loved experiencing other cultures and peoples, her gregarious nature winning new friends wherever she went. But much as she enjoyed unfamiliar destinations, Bea often returned to Scotland, savoring the a deep connection she felt to her parents’ homeland.
In 2001 she moved to Shawnee, KS to be close to her daughters. She settled into a spacious residence in the Lakeview Townhomes community, where she lived independently for 13 years. She joined the Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church, the St. Andrews Society of KC, Friends of the Library, and her local VFW post. Her literary friends at Second Saturdays Book Club delighted in her unconventional book reviews. Bea managed to keep teaching too – tutoring Latin and giving guest lectures at nearby schools. In short, the new chapter begun at age 82 turned out quite well.
In 2014, she decided that independent living was more trouble than it was worth. Downsizing to a small apartment at Shawnee Hills Senior Living was a smart move. Life was simpler there, free of burdensome daily chores, and her sunny little apartment suited her well for the next 8 years. To the caring staff and friendly residents there, she extends a fond and final Anon.
Her three children were with her during her final days under Hospice care. On the morning of Sunday, July 31, Bea’s beautiful life came to a peaceful end.
Her parents, husband Don Notley, and brother Charles S. Low preceded her in death. She is survived by son and daughter-in-law Charles and Kathy Notley of Leesburg VA, daughter Laura Notley of Kansas City MO, daughter Marianne Notley and son-in-law Robert McAnany of Shawnee KS, grandchildren Charles McAnany and Emily Westheimer, and cherished relatives and friends in Shawnee, Tulsa, Michigan, Canada, Scotland, and Australia.
A memorial service for Mrs. Notley will be held at Amos Family Funeral Home in Shawnee KS on Friday, Aug 19th, at 4:00 pm. She will be interred with military honors at Great Lakes National Cemetery in Holly MI. To friends wishing to express a token of remembrance, the family suggests that in lieu of flowers they make a donation in her name to: Tulsa SPCA, 2910 Mohawk Blvd, Tulsa OK 74110; Great Plains SPCA, 5420 Antioch Dr., Merriam KS 66202; or VFW Post 10552, PO Box 860961, Shawnee KS 66286-0961.
Bea Notley touched many lives. In return, you gave her life meaning and purpose. Thank you.