Longtime Long Beach resident Betty Houston-Seal was the kind of person who would look at a situation and think of ways she could help. This was evident in everything the former teacher, education leader, wife, mother and grandmother did. Houston-Seal passed away on Aug. 7 with her husband Bill and grandson Dylan at her side.
“My mom really loved Long Beach and Signal Hill. From her I learned to be involved in my community and that by helping others I would help myself. I think that has been a guiding principle for me. She emphasized kindness, generosity, loyalty, and family first,” said Houston-Seal’s daughter, Judy Seal.
Houston-Seal was born in Long Beach and raised in Signal Hill. Her father, Oscar Houston, served as the Signal Hill Superior Court judge for 30 years. He was also a Superior Court judge in Long Beach. Her mother, Annette Rowland Houston, was a prominent campaign event planner and speaker for President John F. Kennedy.
Houston-Seal graduated from Poly High School in 1941 and went on to Long Beach City College (LBCC) where she was elected the first female student body president. While in college, she spent several months in Mexico City, becoming fluent in Spanish. She continued her education at UCLA, graduating with a degree in history.
Houston-Seal and her husband knew each other most of their lives, having grown up only five blocks apart. They married in 1947 and moved to Long Beach. Aug. 30 would have been their 30th wedding anniversary.
“Betty lived across the street from Signal Hill Elementary School, and I lived on Olive and 21st St,” said Bill. “The main thing I liked about her was that she was innately kind and she was about as fair as a person can be.”
Houston-Seal decided to go into education. She taught in Long Beach for 25 years, spending most of those years at Newcomb Academy. She began her career teaching first and second grades, eventually transitioning to seventh- and eighth-grade English and Spanish.
In 1975, Houston-Seal moved to Long Beach Unified School District’s central office and was put in charge of creating English as a Second Language and bilingual education programs.
“Betty was a true pioneer in reaching out to the immigrant communities, and alerting all of us early on to the rich contributions that they would make to Long Beach. We are all in her debt when it came to making our schools better,” said Carl Cohn, former LBUSD Superintendent of Schools.
With refugees then coming from Cambodia in high numbers, Houston-Seal worked with the school district to create the Assignment Center, now called International Student Registration. She hired educated Cambodian refugees like Lay Kry, who helped her create the South East Asian Learners Program.
“She worked very, very hard for the Cambodian community, recording traditions of ours including our dancing, our spoken language, and our alphabet from first-generation refugees for generations to come,” said Kry of the Cambodian Association of America. “She showed us respect by learning about our culture, by letting us lead programs for our children, and by involving herself in our lives and transitions into life in Long Beach.”
Over the years, she built an international team to meet the needs of children from Mexico and South America, Europe, Cambodia and Vietnam. Her successful work with international students continues to be studied at Cal State University, Long Beach, UCLA, and other universities with applied linguistics programs.
“She really wanted to be that welcoming committee for people, so she modeled that and she asked other teachers to model that. Whenever anybody would walk in from another country, she would say, ‘You should be so grateful that you met them in this lifetime.’ That deep appreciation for people from all over the world is something that I really saw in action,” said Judy.
Houston-Seal retired from LBUSD in 1985 and became an avid volunteer. She volunteered for the Long Beach City College Foundation, the LBCC Friends of Languages club, the Greater Long Beach Chapter of the American Red Cross, PEO (Philanthropic Educational Organization), and the Junior League of Long Beach (JLLB). As a result of her collaborative work with the JLLB, the Mary McLeod Bethune Transitional Center for Homeless Children in LBUSD was created to serve as a voice for homeless children.
“As we look at the challenges we face in education and society, we can use Betty Seal’s life as a roadmap to recovery,” said Mike Murray, former president of the Long Beach Education Foundation, LBUSD’s fundraising arm.
In 1992, Houston-Seal was inducted into the LBCC Hall of Fame.
“It was natural for her to be involved with her community. She wanted to make a little difference in this world. She wanted to help and she always encouraged people to do the same,” said Bill.
Betty is survived by: her husband William B. Seal; daughter Judy Seal; grandsons Dylan, Reed, and Sean; son Rev. Canon Christopher Seal, rector of Holy Trinity Parish in Nevada City, and daughter-in-law Gae; granddaughters Moorea, Alexandra, and Isabella; daughter Nancy Pryor, and son-in-law Dan Pryor; grandson Andrew and granddaughter-in-law Alyson; great-grandchildren Jack, Finn, and Claire; grandson Jonathan and granddaughter-in-law Jane; grandson David and granddaughter-in-law Lori, who will soon deliver a great-grandson.
Her funeral was Aug. 18 at All Saints Episcopal Church, 346 Termino Ave. Speakers include former LBUSD Assistant Superintendent Blanche Brewster Cannady, Lay Kry of the Cambodian Association of America, Executive Director of the LBCC Foundation Virginia “Ginny” Baxter, community volunteer and former “Woman of the Year” Candice Stacy, and former Long Beach Mayor Beverly O’Neill.
The Seal family has established the LBCC Betty Houston Seal Memorial Scholarship in the Long Beach City College Foundation. Checks may be sent to LBCC Foundation, 4901 E. Carson St. Long Beach, CA 90808. Please put Betty Seal in the memo line. Or donate online at foundation.lbcc.edu. Choose “scholarships” and add “Betty Seal.”