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Janet Keep

1921 - 2015 Obituary Condolences
Janet Keep Obituary
Janet Keep

1921 - 2015 WILLIAMSTOWN Janet Keep, 93, psychotherapist, spiritual mentor, mother, grandmother, peace and justice advocate, nature loverpassed peacefully at her home, Keep Hill, in Williamstown, on Sunday, September 13, surrounded by her family and friends. Janet Rose Dismorr Thompson Keep was born on November 26, 1921, in Washington, D.C. Her mother, Margaret Stewart Dismorr Thompson, graduate of Cambridge University, had emigrated from England to the U.S., earned her masters in economics at Bryn Mawr College, served as a Massachusetts inspector of women's working conditions, drove a Red Cross ambulance in France during World War I, and worked on food relief in Czechoslovakia. For the next two decades she served as a consumer economist in the U.S. Labor and Agriculture Departments. Jan Keep's father, mathematician and diplomat J. David Thompson (also a Cambridge alum and English immigrant) established and directed the Congressional Research Service at the Library of Congress. During the 1920s he served as U.S. delegate and executive secretary of the Committee on International Intellectual Cooperation of the League of Nations, precursor to UNESCO. Jan Keep attended Spring Hill School and Putney School (a member of its first class) then graduated from Radcliffe College in 1942, majoring in American history and literature. That spring she married James MacGregor Burns, a Harvard Ph.D. student who later taught political science at Williams College and grew renowned as a political theorist, historian, and architect of leadership studies. While her husband served in the Pacific war, Jan worked for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in Washington on European intelligence. After the war she bore five children, one of whom died in infancy. Jan worked as a teacher and administrator at Pine Cobble School in Williamstown, then as assistant director of the Center for Development Economics at Williams in its formative years. She wrote columns and covered political conventions for the Berkshire Eagle. A talented singer and musician, she played flute in the Berkshire Symphony Orchestra. Following her 1969 divorce, she married Albert Keep of Williamstown, a secondary school educator. After earning her masters in counseling at Antioch University she launched a 30-year career as a revered psychotherapist, focusing on alcoholism/substance abuse, marital counseling, and women in transition. She was well known as an advocate for better mental health services. She served for many years as a lay leader of the First Congregational Church (UCC) in Williamstown, including as moderator of the Berkshire County UCC conference. She journeyed frequently to the Scottish isle of Iona, where she found her spiritual home in Celtic Christianity. She spent summers tending a small island on Maine's Moosehead Lake. During the 1980s and 1990s she traveled widely in Latin America, doing anthropological research in Brazil and Mexico and serving on Witness for Peace peacemaking teams in Nicaragua, Haiti, and Cuba. In 2004 she received the Martin Luther King Jr. Peacemaker Award from the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition. To the end of her life she was fascinated by national and international politics and the world of ideas. She was an avid family historian and devoted herself to her personal memoirs. Besides her lifelong passion for world peace and social justice, her love of music, and devotion to her family and friends, she was deeply engaged in the natural world (especially of the Berkshires) and drew it into her spiritual practice. Nothing lifted her spirits like bird songs and the blooming of her flower garden every spring. The flowers' light, says Mary Oliver (Jan's favorite poet), "is an invitation to happiness, and that happiness, when it's done right, is a kind of holiness, palpable and redemptive." Jan is dearly missed by her daughters, Deborah Burns and Mecca Antonia Burns, Mecca's husband, Brad Stoller, her son, Stewart Burns and his wife, Deborah Schneer, Jan's granddaughters, Tess McHugh, Chelsea Rose Leventhal, and Alethea Daniele Leventhal, her grandson, Sean McHugh and his wife, Flo MacGregor, many nieces, nephews, cousins, and a wealth of friends. Jan's oldest child, David Burns, predeceased her in December 2010. SERVICES: A memorial service to celebrate Jan Keep's life and legacy will take place in October at the First Congregational Church in Williamstown. In lieu of flowers, please send donations to the Friendship Center Food Pantry, 45 Eagle St., North Adams 01247, or to Mama Hope in Budondo, Uganda: mamahope.org
Published in The Berkshire Eagle on Sept. 16, 2015
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