Elizabeth Tennery was a pioneer lawyer in the Bar Association of Montgomery County, Maryland. She was one of a handful of women lawyers, when I started working part time in the Bar Association Office in 1975. Betty did not like the phrase “Woman Lawyer.” She would say, “A lawyer is a lawyer, what does being a woman have to do with anything.”
She was quietly effective in everything she did. She was not particularly a joiner of organizations; but she was a fierce advocate and mentor to many women – I happened to be one of those very fortunate women. In order to be taken seriously in the era of 1955 to 1980, a woman had to work twice as hard, be overly prepared and it did not hurt to have a mentor – Barney Welsh was her mentor and law firm partner.
However, she built her reputation in Family Law, not as a litigator; but as a lawyer, who felt the greatest favor she could do for her clients was to get them a “Good Settlement” without long hours in court. She was a mediator before there were recognized mediators.
Betty was creative, hard working and had a mind that was always looking for ways to help her clients and her colleagues. She saw problems as opportunities to implement change with new programs and new projects. She was truly a leader and not afraid to take risks of failure or ridicule because she was ahead of her time in her “Vision of What Could Be.”
When she was President of the Bar Association in 1978-79, we worked hard and we played hard – that seemed to be her basic nature. Since there were no computers at that time in commercial use, she wrote all her letters and speeches out in long hand on the long yellow legal pads. She could work circles around any one, two or maybe three people. I know because I watched her and I worked 12 hour days trying to keep up with her. One time when I was getting ready to decorate the conference room after its renovation, she asked me what type of wall paper I was going to use. I said, Wall paper—oh no, I have all the yellow sheets of paper you gave me in letters and I thought I would just use those and paste them on the walls. Chuckle!
She did not like people taking themselves too seriously. For her first executive committee meeting, she brought to the conference room a box of hats and a couple of liquor bottles and she insisted everyone in the room put on a hat. Her comment – “Ok Bev, take our pictures, so if we get too serious, you can pull them out and I want you to print them in the Newsletter. Then we stored the bottles and hats and went right to work on a year that was full of new initiatives.
Betty had a great sense of humor and she brought out the best in people with that humor. When we were talking on the telephone or in person – it was always humorous bantering back and forth into deep laughter. One time I said to her, “You do bring out the best in people.” As a matter of fact she took it even a step further, when she created the Bar Revue in 1979. This was a comedy-variety show written and performed by the Judges and Attorneys in the Bar Association. It was held at Smokey Glenn Farms on Riffel Ford Road. We rented a large tent, which would accommodate a stage, room for a band and 600 people. Attendance reached an all time high at 800 in the mid 1980’s. The show was slapstick comedy, musical, dance and singing with great camaraderie. It is now 26 years old and has turned quite professional with outstanding performances. She created a wonderful legacy for the younger members of the Bar.
Betty was deeply concerned for the physical and mental welfare of her colleagues and thus created the Lawyer – to Lawyer Committee, which assisted attorneys with alcohol, drug or management problems. This committee has saved lives. It was so successful that the Maryland State Bar created a Lawyer to Lawyer Program and hired a full time director for the entire state. Yes, Betty was a leader!
At the beginning of her presidency, she established a Permanent Search Committee and appointed Bill Canby as the Chair to search for a building in Rockville within walking distance of the Circuit Court as a permanent home for the Bar Association of Montgomery County. She was determined that the Committee would continue looking until they found the right location. The building selected was purchased in two phases and is now almost paid for at 27 W. Jefferson Street. Yes, she was a leader!
I was appointed Acting Executive Director, when the Executive Director William Huffman entered the private practice of law. I served for six months in this Acting position. I then applied for the Full time Executive Director position in a letter setting forth my vision for the next ten years to the President Betty Tennery. When I handed it to her and she read it, she smiled that big broad smile and said, “Well, I was beginning to think you were never going to apply.”
The last Bar Association function Betty attended was the Bar Leaders Dinner for Senior Members of the Bar last March. She had a table near the center of the room. I made sure every table in the room knew she was there, so she had people dropping by her table all evening to say hello and talk about the “Good Times.” She later told me how amazing it was that so many people came to her table. I was thrilled just watching her.
There are so many other stories I could relate because she stayed active in the Bar Association even after she was President. After one false start on the Centennial Historical Book, Betty took charge of making sure the Centennial Book had the proper authors, that it was organized and that it had the historical stories and photographs that would make it worthy of the Bar Association. When we were talking one day, I said to her, “You know Betty, I now know why people rarely live longer than 100.” “It is because no one could possibly live through two centennial celebrations. We laughed so hard, as we always did. The conscientious effort by Betty during the administration of Mark Goldstein, then president, on this Centennial Historical Book saved so much Bar Association and Montgomery County history.
Betty will always be with us in the hearts. She was a Bar Leader in her profession, a caring colleague, and very giving person to those she loved. She made a difference in our community by that giving nature.
Beverly Mondin-VanderHaar, Executive Director
When Judge Stanley Klavan and I decided to leave our law firm in Washington and move to Rockville in 1969, we rented space in the basement of the Jefferson Building for the astronomic rent of $300.
What a wonderful group of Lawyers were there, Arthur Hilland, Al Spates, Fred Mack, of course the building’s owner Dave Betts, Henry Murdoch, Sonny Clogg, Frank Quinn, Rourke Sheehan, to name a few, and then there were the folks in the office across the hall, Barney Welsh and Betty Tennery.
Barney and Betty took these two foreigners in hand and made us feel like we belonged to the society of oldest inhabitants of Rockville, sending us cases where they had conflicts and were always there if we had a question about a Judge or how to file a particular cause of action or deal with some snag in the Orphan’s Court. And most important, they said we must join the BAMC. We did and I became active in it, succeeding Betty as its President.
Betty was nearing the end of her term as president, and preparing me to succeed her when she told me that she was going to replace the Executive Director, who was entering the full-time practice of law, with a WOMAN then working in the office—so, here I was starting my term with this novice running the bar office for this mighty group of 800+ lawyers. Well, as Paul Harvey would say, “Here is the rest of the story.” What became of that woman hired by Betty?
Honorable Paul Mannes
Elizabeth Tennery, 75, a lawyer who practiced in Rockville for many years, died Jan. 15 at Suburban Hospital of emphysema.
Ms. Tennery practiced domestic law in Rockville with the firm of Welsh & Tennery for more than 30 years, retiring in the late 1990s. She served on the domestic relations committee of the Maryland State Bar Association and, in the 1970s, was the second woman to be named president of the Montgomery County Bar Association. She also taught law at American University.
She was born in Marietta, Okla., and moved to Rockville in 1939. She graduated from the old Rockville High School.
She worked at the Pentagon during World War II, attended high school at night and tap-danced at USO clubs on weekends. After the war, Ms. Tennery was a legal secretary and attended American University at night. She also attended law school at American at night, graduating in 1964.
Her marriage to Newton Tennery ended in divorce.
Survivors include a son, Brian Tennery of Poolesville; and two granddaughters.