Elizabeth Wood Knapp ’64


Portrait of Betsy Wood Knapp

Betsy Wood Knapp, a pioneer among women in business and technology, a philanthropist, angel investor, trustee emerita of Wellesley, and devoted friend of many, died peacefully at home on June 20, with her beloved husband, Bud, at her side. The world, and especially our world of Wellesley, is decidedly dimmer without her radiant and beautiful presence.

Wellesley was a center point in Betsy’s life from age 8, when she tagged along on a campus tour with an older sibling. Betsy knew then and there Wellesley was for her. With her intellectual breadth, focus, and tenacity, plus her Midwestern warmth and sparkling smile, she thrived when she entered the College in the fall of 1960. Even a low mark on a first-year English paper merely threw down a challenge. In an economics course in which students crafted a portfolio of stocks and competed over the year, Betsy sailed away with the prize, a hint of her future indeed.

In Betsy, deep human understanding paired with keen intellect. Her capacity to comprehend the data, from big to small, was infused with genuine concern for people. Betsy knew that both process and people foretell outcome. Her Wellesley classmates say she was the best kind of leader: She listened, synthesized connections, and had great ideas. She was a true collaborator who liked, in her own words, to “mull things over.” Her thoughtful mind grasped the details, yet always held her vision of the whole. And, throughout her life, that vision was well ahead of its time.

In the 1970s, Betsy became president of Telmar Communications Corporation, a company she cofounded in the new field of online access to marketing and media databases. As a woman in the role of president at a major software company, she was an industry pioneer.

She went on to play a key role at Los Angeles-based Knapp Communications, publisher of magazines like Bon Appétit and Architectectural Digest, serving as senior vice president and director. Betsy later founded Wood Knapp & Co., which produced and distributed special-interest home videos, and also served as chief executive officer of BigPicture Investors LLC, a company she started to provide capital and consulting to start-ups and young firms, with a particular focus on technology.

In the early 1980s, she was a founding member of the prestigious Committee of 200, a by-invitation association of leading women entrepreneurs and corporate executives. In 1989, she was one of a select few who participated in founding Wellesley’s Business Leadership Council, a new alumnae group aimed at engaging the growing ranks of Wellesley women in business. As a trustee of the College from 1996 to 2011, Betsy was fully immersed and led numerous committees. She co-chaired Wellesley’s $400 million Comprehensive Campaign, which closed out with a record-setting $472 million in 2005.

Betsy’s extraordinary generosity found expression through the Knapp Foundation, which she and Bud created in the early 1990s. She was an inspired philanthropist at Wellesley, first with the Knapp Media and Technology Center, opening in 1997 at Wellesley’s Clapp Library, and then with the transformative renovation of Pendleton East into the Knapp Social Sciences Center, which opened in 2001. “It was a dream come true for me to help Wellesley take a leadership role in providing today’s students with the finest tools for expression and communication,” Betsy said. Professor Lee Cuba, who was then dean of the College, observed, “What we take as a given today has not always been so; Betsy and Bud made it happen.” Betsy’s collaboration with faculty and College leadership supported the integration of academic disciplines. This curricular vision has enriched opportunities for generations of Wellesley students.

As President Emerita Diana Chapman Walsh ’66 said, Betsy “attended to every detail and never missed a beat” and she was a “dreamer who conjured unseen realities.” Betsy and Bud “wove threads of past and future into places and spaces that had never existed beyond their own imaginations.” Just as Betsy did this at Wellesley, she and Bud later did at their ranch home in Colorado, creating a center of sustainable farming guided by science and environmental principles. At the University of California at Los Angeles, Betsy was the first woman to chair the UCLA Foundation, a more-than-$2-billion fund that manages private donations for the benefit of the public university. She also served on the UCLA Technology Development Group, a board with the important mission of developing intellectual property within the university, and the board of advisors for UCLA’s Anderson Graduate School of Management.

Bud describes their 38-year marriage as one of uncommonly deep and wonderful connection. Betsy was everything to him, and you can fairly hear his heart swell to describe the partnership. Betsy evokes that in the people she knew and loved, and to say good-bye to her breaks a person’s heart. Her brilliant legacy will guide us, though. Her example of an inquisitive, thoughtful mind, of deep compassion and generosity, and an always-ready smile, remind us how much more is possible.

In addition to Bud, Betsy leaves a brother and a sister, three stepchildren, their five children, and a multitude of devoted friends. For each of us and for the Wellesley community as a whole, Betsy will be sorely missed.

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