Northern California

Honoring the Life and Legacy of Betty Cookson

December 08, 2022

Betty Cookson, the Co-Chair of the 2022 Hall of Fame; L-R: Nancy DeSchane, Betty Cookson, Linda Peltz, Anna Elefant

Elizabeth “Betty” McGee Cookson passed away peacefully on October 11, 2022, at 99 years of age. A National Gold Slam Champion and mother of three, Betty was instrumental in growing the game of tennis both in Northern California and throughout the United States. The United States Tennis Association Northern California (USTA NorCal) designated December 2022 as the inaugural Betty Cookson Month, honoring the life and legacy of one of NorCal tennis’ pioneers.


Betty held leadership roles at every level of the USTA, as well as the International Tennis Federation. Serving on numerous National and Northern California committees as a member and Chair, Betty has twice served on the USTA NorCal Board of Directors. For her contributions to the game as both a player and volunteer, Betty was inducted into the USTA NorCal Hall of Fame in 1997 and was awarded the USTA Barbara Williams Leadership Award in 2008, as well as the International Tennis Hall of Fame Samuel T. Hardy Award in 2014. In 2013, USTA NorCal created the Betty Cookson Lifetime Achievement Award as part of the ACES Awards in USTA NorCal to celebrate excellence in service.


Outside of tennis, Betty remained active in her local community with the Junior League of San Francisco, Boy Scouts, Volunteer Bureau, United Crusade, numerous PTAs, and the Peninsula YMCA. Her leadership and involvement earned her recognition as a University of California, Berkeley Alumni Association’s Rosalie Stern award winner. 


Born on December 8, 1922, Betty grew up in Sutter Creek, Calif. at a family home built by her great-grandfather in 1863. After watching her older brother attend a tennis clinic, Betty asked for her own racquet as her next birthday gift, which cost $5.95 at the local drugstore. Picking up the sport at 11 years old, Betty began hitting against the garage door before eventually moving on to become the high school girls' champion of the Mother Lode. Then began a 20-year hiatus from competitive tennis.


Betty continued the familial tradition of attending the University of California, Berkeley where she joined the Alpha Phi sorority. Amidst World War II, Betty assisted the war efforts by becoming a nurse’s aide before graduating with a degree in Economics. Following her time at Cal, Betty accepted a job with IBM as an assistant servicewoman. 


In 1947, Betty married Robert “Bob” Cookson, and together they had three sons: Bob, Jim, and Richard. Adding politics to her decorated resume, Betty supported the San Mateo County Republican Party as a Reagan delegate to the 1976 and 1980 Republican Conventions.


A loyal member of the Peninsula Tennis Club (PTC)  for over 50 years, Betty and her husband, Bob, got their start with the USTA when they advocated for the National Junior Hardcourt Championships to remain at the PTC in the 1970s. Betty became the tournament director in 1976, elevating the tournament on a national scale until 1987, while Bob eventually ascended to become President of the USTA. 


Returning to competitive tennis at the age of 40, Betty would go on to have an illustrious tennis career, winning 23 Gold Balls, numerous Silvers, and an ITF Championship in the Women’s 65 Doubles. Among her many titles and accomplishments, Betty won all four National Championships on each of the four surfaces (hard court, grass, clay, indoor) in 2008 to earn the prestigious Gold Slam alongside partner Dorothy “Dodo” Cheney in the Women’s 85 Doubles. In the rankings, Betty was the top-ranked NorCal player countless times throughout the Women’s 50-70s Doubles divisions and reached No. 1 in the nation in the Women’s 80 Doubles in 2003 and 2004.


Enshrined by her legacy on and off the court, Betty Cookson will be remembered for many of her achievements, not least being a good friend, a good mother, and a good person.


Betty is survived by her brother, Bill McGee; her three sons: Bob (Colleen), Jim (Alison), and Richard (Deborah); nine grandchildren; thirteen great-grandchildren; and many nieces and nephews. Donations in her memory may be made to the USTA Foundation.

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