November 30, 1918- June 19, 2011
Betty Williams, resident of the Valley since 1968 and “La Patrona” of Buttonwood Farm and Winery, died on the evening of Sunday, June 19, after a well-lived life of 92 years. Her suffering was not prolonged and she was surrounded with love, singing and heartfelt goodbyes.
Betty was born in 1918 in Patterson, Louisiana and grew up in New Orleans, daughter of a prominent business man. She attended Sarah Lawrence College, Tulane University for graduate work and later, when her children were young, USC for a law degree.
She and her artist husband, Jirayr Zorthian settled in Altadena, California in the early 40s and the their rural property in the foothills became a haven for the thriving intellectual community in the Pasadena area. They had 4 children, one of whom died. They divorced in the early 50s.
She developed an interest in black and white photography and became extremely proficient at dark room work. It proved to be an artistic endeavor that satisfied her need for creative expression for years to come. We have many stunning images of the Santa Ynez Valley before the old farms and ranches disappeared.
Soon after she began her life at Buttonwood, Betty understood the importance of preserving agricultural land and open space. Betty joined others as citizen advisors to the County Planning Commission and was instrumental in the formation of a general growth plan for Santa Ynez Valley. She made life-long alliances during those years.
Betty was highly valued as a hard-working participant of several organizations close to her heart. She was a member of the Board of Directors, also serving as Chairman, of Pacific Oaks College for teacher training and human development in Pasadena, The Land Trust of Santa Barbara County (founding member), Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts, Arts Outreach, and Williams Incorporated, the family business in Louisiana.
When Betty decided to plant a vineyard on the property she invited her son-in-law, Bret Davenport, to be her partner and they worked together for the following 28 years. She was the founding creative visionary and continued to work with different aspects of the business until not long before she died. Many wonderful people have contributed to the development of her initial dream.
Under Betty’s ownership, Buttonwood has been a cutting horse training operation, boarding and general conditioning stables, a thoroughbred race horse breeding ranch for mares and growing foals, a vineyard, winery and tasting room, organic farm, artist’s studio (Seyburn’s), and Betty’s home, a place where friends gathered to discuss all matters of the world, as well as, of course, solve the world’s problems.
She is survived by her children, Dr. Barry Zorthian and her husband, Bret Davenport of Mill Valley, CA, Seyburn Zorthian and her husband, Marc McGinnes of Santa Barbara, CA and Toby Zorthian of Alberta, Canada. She is also survived by 4 grandchildren and 6 great grandchildren and 2 step great grandchildren. She was preceded in death by her son, Tiran Zorthian, her parents, Delphine C. Williams and Charles S. Williams and her siblings, Lucille D. Williams and Frank B. Williams. A celebration of Betty’s life will be held at Buttonwood in September, then there will be a memorial service in New Orleans where she will be interred.