Beth (Willa-Beth Kraus was her legal name.) was born in The Bronx, a borough of New York City, to Philip Kraus and Janet Hoenig. She grew up there as a vivacious and precocious little imp living on the Grand Concourse. When her father, a musician, served in the Army during World War II, she would disappear to go dance with all of the kids on the base in Rome, New York. Her dad’s next assignment was for a long stretch in Hollywood to film Irving Berlin’s show, “This Is The Army”. Beth studied ballet and modern dance as a little girl, and her sister Suzanne became an artist. Beth was talented enough and she worked hard enough to earn a diploma from the famed High School Of Performing Arts in New York.
With no illusions about the life of a would-be dancer on Broadway, Beth went to Ithaca College in upstate New York with thoughts of becoming a speech therapist. But while she was there, she met and married and moved to Houston with her first husband, Gene Turboff. She and Gene were delighted by the birth of their two sons Andrew and Jeffrey during those ten or eleven years.
Beth married Dr. Edwin Johnstone in 1972, and they raised her two boys in Montrose, where she was a lively neighborhood booster. She took pride in going back to college, at The
University of Houston, where she earned a degree in sociology, with honors in her department, during the bicentennial in 1976. After finishing college, she worked for about two years as a substitute teacher for deaf children. Because she enjoyed dealing with handicapped youngsters so much, she took a fulltime job at a Harris County MHMR infant stimulation center where her personality and her wisdom about parenting made her many lasting friendships before the clinic closed. Her next step, surprising for someone so non-technical by nature, was to learn how to operate a computer, and she went through rigorous training to become a certified travel agent.
Beth worked at the freshly opened and stylish Apple Travel for about five years before moving to a travel agency in the Warwick Hotel. The hotel noticed her right away, and recruited her for their sales office. When the Warwick went under, she worked at Edwin’s office for about ten years of squabbling over who was boss. Finally, she found him a wonderful replacement, and she retired to life at home.
Prowling through resale shops, going late to estate sales, and going early to garage sales were some of her favorite pastimes. She loved finding treasures at the Guild Shop so much that she became a volunteer there for more than ten years. She had an eye for style that guided her to assemble a wardrobe that looked as if it must have cost a fortune. She loved shoes so much that she earned the nickname “Imelda-Beth”. She rarely missed a giant Houston Gem and Jewelry Show, where she could buy items at dealers’ prices and avoid taxes in the guise of a company that a friend named “The Beth of Everything”.
After 31 years in the same (although remodeled four times) bungalow in the Montrose enclave of Cherryhurst, Beth and Edwin moved to The Spires high rise in 2003, where they felt they
had reached heaven. Shortly after that, she was thrilled and amazed when Andy’s wife Amy, as if by magic, gave birth to her grandson Will Turboff on Beth’s birthday. Life stayed that way and grew richer for the last seventeen years of her life. She died at home. She died in Heaven.
Just about everybody that Beth met was struck by a kind of dazzle she had. Petite as a pixie, with the gorgeous body of a dancer, she always looked glamorous. Friends loved her for her
genuine friendliness, her perky spirit, her spunky determination, and her spontaneous bright and witty remarks. She was a natural with an incisive mind and a great sense of humor, but she couldn’t do anything artificial, like pose, or act, or tell a joke.
Beth was fond of shopping, high fashion, and decorating. She liked playing mah-jongg, collecting Depression glass, going to local live theater, and going back to the Big Apple to see the season’s new shows. She was a fervent liberal Democrat to her last breath. She spent the last six or seven years of her life blissfully absorbed in Facebook, word games, Sudoku, and political TV channels, interrupted by watching all of the Housewives on Bravo, along with Golden Girls, Wheel of Fortune, and real life forensic detective shows. She was never so content.
There was nobody else like her. She was a phenomenon. For people who knew her the best, a tiny but brightly sparkling star in the night sky has gone out, but it leaves wondrous memories.