NewsGetting Back to School


Honoring the lives of education advocates who changed Arizona

Posted at 8:40 AM, Jul 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-26 13:28:47-04

PHOENIX — Two sisters came to Arizona and changed education forever. Not only did they change it on a local level but also on the national level.

Betty and Jean Fairfax touched many lives and their legacy lives on through former students and mentees who say these women were ahead of their time.

If the name Betty Fairfax sounds familiar it's because there is a school in the Phoenix community of Laveen named in her honor.

What many may not know is the incredible legacy she and her sister, Jean, left behind - going far beyond school walls.

Their journey started in the state of Ohio where they were born to Dan and Inez Wood Fairfax. Both college-educated who emphasized the importance of education to their girls.

Betty graduated with her bachelor's degree in 1940, at a time only 2% of black women completed college, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

They would go on to earn their master's degrees and in 1950 Betty was recruited to teach at the then-segregated George Washington Carver High School in Phoenix.

Robbin Coulon is the sisters' attorney and personal representative. "That was a place, a launching pad to start her path to educational excellence," said Coulon.

Five years later Betty was one of the first Black teachers at Phoenix Union High School . But, it was at Central High School where she would spend 37 years as a guidance counselor - guiding the way for her students.

"I don't think she ever saw herself as a role model. She saw herself as an actor, as a doer, as the person who was going to make certain that the principles that she'd been taught, the values that she had-that she passed that on to others," recalled Coulon.

While Betty was in Arizona, Jean was on the east coast fighting for civil rights and became instrumental in helping integrate schools in the south.

She also helped reform the National School Lunch Program which thousands of students still take part in today.

In the 1980s Jean joined Betty in Phoenix. ASU Professor Dr. Akua Duku Anokye was one of their mentees. She says together the sisters were unstoppable.

"In 1987 Miss Betty and Miss Jean created a fund. There were 92 students at Bathune elementary at that time. They created a fund, and they promised these kids that if they finished high school and they finished college they would give them a $1000 a year for their tuition."

Throughout their time in Arizona, they created endowments worth roughly one million dollars.

They also created the "Betty B. & Jean E. Fairfax Fund for Educational Equity."

Betty died in 2010 and Jean in 2019.

They never married or had biological children, but people like Coulon and Professor Anoyke know those, who knew the sisters, were part of the family Betty and Jean created out of their love for education and mentoring.

In early 2021 Congressman Greg Stanton introduced Miss Betty Fairfax into the congressional record.

Contributions to the sisters' education fund can be made here.