Two Newark communities are better because of these women

By Barry Carter | The Star-Ledger
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on September 29, 2015

The late Alma Beatty was vice president of community relations at Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark. She was honored during a memorial service where Newark City officials changed the name of Osborne Terrace to Alma Beatty Way.

 

They were the heart and soul of two communities in Newark – on opposite ends of the city.

One was a nun in the East Ward, the other was a hospital administrator in the South Ward.

They didn't know one another, but Sister Carol Johnston and Alma Beatty were two socially conscious women who were tenacious about making life better for Newark residents.

In separate tributes, each befitting the lives they led, Johnston and Beatty were honored with lasting memorials on Saturday.  

Johnston, an environmentalist and human rights advocate, died in 2013. She was 68.  Beatty,  a community health activist, died  Feb. 10. She was 75.

The next time you're visiting Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, and you're at the corner of Osborne Terrace and Lyons Avenue, look up at the street sign  – you'll see Beatty's name there, too. The city renamed it Alma Beatty Way.

She worked at the medical center for 44 years, retiring as vice president of community relations, a position she used to touch lives throughout the hospital community.

"My mother opened a lot of doors for a lot of people,'' says her son, Craig Beatty. "She gave her life to Beth Israel.''

Under her leadership, colleagues say Beatty formed the patient advocacy department, which gave patients a voice to ask questions about their care or to address hospital policies.

In the summers, she made sure that city youth had jobs at the medical center; seniors were cared for through "House Calls,'' a program that brought medical, social and educational services to public and senior housing. Beatty organized health fairs, handled charity care for uninsured patients and pushed for minority physicians to be hired.

"She had the kind of compassion that you don't find anymore,'' says her sister, Alberta Gregory.

Need $10? No problem. Assistance with finding an apartment? You got it. Sound sage advice came with the package, too, as she could be stern one minute and loving the next.

The list goes on and so do the stories,  including how she helped medical residents get books, or meals if they were hungry.

"Alma was there for them every day,'' says John Brennan, president and chief executive officer of Newark Beth Israel Medical Center.

This from a girl raised at Dayton Street projects, a Newark public housing development; a girl who didn't allow growing up poor to stifle her growth.  Beatty never used  poverty as an excuse, nor would she allow others to settle for less when she saw their potential.

"I stand before you, who I am, because of the Beatty family,'' says Council President Mildred Crump, who led the effort for the street sign.

The celebration was emotional, at times, but it was a family gathering from all circles.  Beatty's entire family was there, which included the community, city, state and congressional leaders.

South Ward Councilman John S. James  presented the Beatty family a resolution; Mayor Ras Baraka offered a proclamation; and Rep. Donald Payne Jr. (D-10th Dist.) plans to honor her on the floor of the House of Representatives.

Now, take a walk with me to Riverfront Park in Newark's Ironbound section of the city. Look for a boulder with a silver plaque placed there by the Ironbound Community Corporation, a neighborhood organization.  The plaque bears Sister Carol Johnston's name and says that "she loved Newark, fought for justice & helped us return to our river.''

The memorial is on a grassy hill overlooking the Passaic River, from which Johnston fought to remove toxins as part of a community advisory group she started while working for ICC.

The river still needs work, but the federal Environmental Protection Agency came to Newark in 2008 to honor Johnston with the agency's "Citizen Excellence in Community Involvement Award" for her work to remediate the superfund site.

"She was so persistent,'' says Ana Baptista, director of ICC's environmental planning and programs. "Carol helped me to see the beauty of this waterway.''

Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo says Johnston never accepted "no" for an answer and worked "tirelessly'' to reconnect the Ironbound community to the river.

She did, even when it didn't seem possible. 

A graduate of St. Vincent Academy in Newark, Johnston pursued social causes with deep faith after becoming a member of the Sisters of Charity of Saint Elizabeth in Convent Station in 1962.

She took up the river campaign after returning from working 10 years in Mexico, where she helped refugee women from Guatemala.

Sister Barbara Harrington, who was with Johnston in Mexico, says her friend – a feminist to the core – had boundless energy and love for the world.

"She believed that we all belong to one sacred community, and that single sacred community is alive and evolving and unfolding.''

Following the tribute,  her friends, the nuns and ICC staff walked to the edge of the river for one last observance.

They placed a bouquet of flowers in the water, letting it float away.

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