Betty Jo Charlton, former state representative from Lawrence, dies

Betty Jo Charlton, the first woman state legislator from Lawrence, died Tuesday. She was 91.

Charlton served in the Kansas House from 1980 through 1994 and was active in the Douglas County Democratic Party. While in the Legislature, she was the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee.

“She was a mentor to a lot of people,” said state Rep. Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence.

Ballard said Charlton organized the annual pre-legislative session meeting between representatives of local groups and the Douglas County legislative delegation.

Ballard coordinates that meeting now and said that for years she would hear from Charlton after Charlton read about the meeting in the newspaper.

“She always made the comment that, ‘I saw you had your annual meeting.’ Betty Jo’s approval meant everything to me because she invested a lot of time in me. If she was proud of me, I was happy,” Ballard said.

State Rep. Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence, said Charlton was a model public servant that all elected officials should follow.

“Betty Jo was beloved by her constituents because she paid attention to them and responded when they called, visited or wrote her,” Sloan said.

State Rep. Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, said of Charlton, “Betty Jo lived a full life and enjoyed keeping up on Kansas politics after she left the Legislature. She gave me a lot of good advice through the years. During her tenure in the Legislature, Betty Jo was a strong advocate for Lawrence, KU and the people of the 46th District.”

Charlton was inducted into the Kansas University Women’s Hall of Fame in 1997.

In the late 1940s, she was one of the first women to enter the School of Engineering. Her education was interrupted by marriage and children, but more than 20 years later she received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

She is survived by two sons, John and Richard, and two granddaughters. The family wishes donations in her name be made to the Douglas County Democratic Party.

No service has been announced.