FLORENCE - Jean Campbell Sheehan lived a beautiful, full life with love for and from family and friends. In Jean's own words, "For the kindness and love that have surrounded me all of my life - And for so very much else - music and song, good books, swimming and hiking, - Bust most of all, for Love - I have been so lucky - Lord, thank you."
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Jean, 102, passed away Tuesday, April 9, 2013. She was at her home, Lathrop Community in Easthampton, surrounded by her family and friends who loved her.
Jean was born June 8, 1910, in Northampton. Her father was Gordon J. Campbell and her mother was Stella Sprague Campbell.
As a young girl, Jean traveled to Barcelona, Spain, with her parents. She attended Collegio Internacional, a school for Spanish and English speaking girls located halfway up Mont. Tibadabo, for three years from age 9-12. One of the highlights of those years in Spain was the knowledge of art and sculpture she acquired from a great teacher, a Dr. Houghton. Dr. Houghton had lived in Greece for many years and knew and loved the work of the great masters. Jean also stated that Dr. Houghton had the gift of being able to impart her enthusiasm to her pupils. When Jean returned to the United States after this three year stay, she took a month's trip through Europe on her way home, and was able to see for herself all the wonders about which Dr.Houghton had taught her.
One of the happiest years of Jean's youth was the only time she went to public school. Jean attended seventh grade at Hawley Grammar in Northampton. She was 13 and she loved it. Jean always remembered the names of some of her classmates, although she had never seen them since. Following Jean's year at Hawley Grammar, she attended Horace Mann School for Girls, in Morningsided Heights near Columbia. She graduated in 1928. Jean worked in various class offices, the school paper and other activities. In her senior year, she headed student govemment and was awarded the Good Citizenship Medal, something that
pleased her parents very much.
In 1932, Jean was accepted into the freshman class at Smith College. She graduated cum laude in 1936, majoring in government. Jean had a circle of six or seven close friends who gave her great support during those years.
Chief among her friends was Jean's first roommate, Elizabeth (Billy) Doran from Buffalo, N.Y., who remained always her very best and dearest friend. It was a wonderful relationship. Billy was the only person in the world, with the exception of her husband, with whom Jean giggled, sharing the same sense of humor and finding the same things funny.
Jean's closest friends included Jean Carey Hills, Sue Smith and Sally Hills. Jean Carey Hills was her longtime fishing companion. Beginning in Jean's mid-forties, and continuing for the next 30 years of her life, the two Jeans enjoyed fishing at Parsons Brook. Jean hung up her old rod and reel when Jean Carey Hills died and never fished again in New England.
Jean married John Russell Sheehan March 6, 1936. Their romance began one November evening in New York City. Jean and her dad were living at the Russell Hotel in Park Averue. The year was 1935 and Jean was 25 years of age. John was 24. Through Jean's cousin Fred Fiker, Jean and John had been given tickets to a symphony. It was a blind date. John roomed with Fred in an apartment on 57th street, shared by five young men recently graduated from college. It was the height of the great depression and the combined salaries of the group amounted to a little over $100 a week. It was a rare privilege to be attending the philharmonic. Jean donned her best clothes and eagerly awaited the appearance of this unknown man. And it was that once in a lifetime
experience, love at first sight. They sat on the steps outside her apartment and talked, they had so much in common. Both were only children, both had tragically ill mothers and both had new jobs in New York and were recent college graduates.
They got married in the Community Church at the Circle at 5 p.m. on a Friday evening in Mount Vemon, N.Y. The Reverend Carl S. Weist was minister. He was the husband of Elizabeth Feiker Weist, Jean's eldest cousin. Elizabeth was the only attendant and Bill Wright, a close friend and fellow eli, served as John's best man. Jean wore an aqua street dress with a brown straw hat and matching gloves and shoes. Jean's wedding dress is now at the Northampton Historical Society. After 49 years of marriage, Jean's husband, John Russell Sheehan, passed away April 13, 1990. In her memoirs, Jean wrote about her husband: "But what a
wonderful life you gave me, and what a loving, devoted husband you have been."
After their honeymoon to Bermuda, which Jean described as 'perfection itself' she settled with John in a small apartment in Yonkers, N.Y. Jean took a summer course in typing and shorthand, and in 1937 she got a secretarial job at the Bronxville High School office. Eventually Jean changed jobs to what would become her passion, working in a newspaper office. She went to work in the circulation department of the New York Times.
At age 47, Jean joined the Gazette as a complete novice. She was a general reporter for 11 years. Of all the careers a woman may enjoy, to Jean this was the most challenging. She loved every minute of it. Jean said she learned Northampton from the inside; she interviewed such people as Governor Volpe, Ted Kennedy and Eliot Richardson. To quote Jean: "It was great fun! My mind expanded and I felt part of things."
For the next 11 years, Jean's first city editor, Al Myer, gradually educated her in writing a news story. She said she could always recall the special aroma that pervaded the building and was noticeable as soon as one entered- a mixture of cigarette smoke and printers' ink. It was a haunting memory. According to Jean, there is no job in the world that is the equal of newspaper work. One learns so much about what is going on in the world and in one's own town. And of course, it is impossible to write a news story without learning its background. Jean always felt that she was at the very center of the universe when she was in a newspaper office. One memory Jean wrote of, in her own words: "One year, 1964, I think, when our vacation coincided with the dates of the Republican convention in San Francisco, we visited my old friend, Janet Thompson, and I was given a press pass to the convention. Because I represented such a small newspaper it turned out to be a very special pass (there are different categories, I learned), and with it, I was able to be down in the center and cover whatever I liked. Also, it entitled me to a good seat at interviews with the celebrities, such as Eisenhower. I sent back a few news releases from that convention, which were duly published." In
her 60's, Jean left the Gazette when her husband retired, so they could travel.
Jean began traveling at an early age. At age nine, she traveled to Barcelona, Spain, with her parents, to live there for three years.
While returning home to the U.S., Jean and her parents took a month's trip through Europe. At the conclusion of World War II Jean and her family, consisting of her husband and two sons, took off in their old LaSalle for a tour of Florida. They traveled through all the old cities of the South, then into the Carolinas. Jean saw Myrtle Beach when it was just a small seaside fishing village, long before its present boom as one of the South's major areas. It was during this trip that Jean and John discovered Sarasota, Fla., where they purchased their winter home.
In 1983, while Jean and John were in their early 70's, shortly after retiring, they went on a 10 week trip that took in Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Sweden and some of Germany and France. This trip, in particular, stood out in Jean's memory. She wrote: "It was the highlight of all our trips and I remember every detail of it with the greatest pleasure!" They were on their own, with no tour they had to follow, so their time schedule was as they chose. Jean wrote about some particularly vivid memories of the trip: "On August 24, we finally arrived in France... I still vividly recall the lovely little French sandwiches, so pretty, tasty and light, after the German food that we had for lunch. Our hotel in Strasbourg was the Sofiel, and my diary notes with glee 'the wonderful, modern, air-conditioned room we had, with two beds and sheets! They were the first we had since Brussels. I've been sleeping in my bathrobe and a dress over me for so long I've forgotten what a sheet is!"
At the conclusion of World War II, Jean spent time in White Plains, N.Y., at her mother's former home. At age nine, Jean moved to
Barcelona, Spain. She lived there for three years, returning to live in Northampton where she had been born. When her father got a position on Wall Street, the family moved to New York City. After her wedding to John, Jean and her new husband continued to live in New York. They rented a small apartment in Yonkers. The furniture Jean and John purchased for their apartment is still in use in the family's Northampton home.
Jean remembered: "One day he (John) came home even more tired and discouraged than usual. "I'd give anything to get out of this rate race," he said. And that is how we came to move to Northampton." In 1937, Jean and John moved to the poultry farm given to John as a post wedding gift by his father. Renovations to the shabby old farmhouse on Florence Road were underway and continued throughout their lives there. Jean and John found Northampton a very congenial place. Their social life during those years was unbelievable, and all of that ended "for the duration". And as it turned out, forever.
For things after the war, which lasted over four years, never were the same. The winter home in Sarasota, Fla., was the first place they had come to during their tour of Florida that seemed settled as they were accustomed to, and immediately the decision was made to make Sarasota their winter home. Jean and John obtained a little boat which was christened "The Mame". Jean had a great time, pulling in flounder, sea trout, lady fish and occasionally a much-prized pompano.
In the mid 1990's, Jean Sheehan donated 48 acres of land off of Florence Road to the Lathrop Communities so it could develop a second retirement community in Easthampton. Jean's donation paved the way for Lathrop to acquire two other large parcels of land, totaling more than 175 acres, that would later become the Lathrop Retirement Community in Easthampton, a sister community to the original Lathrop retirement village in Northampton. In recognition of the 100th birthday in June 2010, the Lathrop Community's board of directors honored Jean at its annual meeting. The board recognized her for her generous donation, recalling her wish to create a pastoral rural retirement community for senior citizens like herself. At the end of her life Jean lived in an assisted living apartment, on the land she donated.
On June 20, 2010, Jean's family held a 100 year birthday party for her. The party was at the Log Cabin in Holyoke and was attended by over 300 friends and family members. Jean thoroughly enjoyed herself. She was presented with citations from Governor Deval Patrick, State Senator Stan Rosenberg and State Representative Peter Kocot. In addition, Congressman Richard Neal presented her with a flag that had flown over the Nation's Capital for one day, in honor of her 100th birthday.
During her life, Jean enjoyed a variety of hobbies. She fished, loved artwork, music and attending movies and operettas with friends. She loved to dance and write. During the times at her winter home in Florida, Jean enjoyed boating. During her lifetime, Jean and her
husband made donations to the Clarke School for the Deaf, the Edwards Church, Smith College Alumni and Cooley Dickinson Hospital.
Jean leaves her two sons, John Gordon Sheehan and his wife Peggy Powers of Florence and Gordon Russell (Sandy) Sheehan of Cambridge; also a step-grandchild Dean Powers and his wife Tanya of Florence; and her step-great-grandchildren Opal and Jarred Powers also of Florence; two nieces, Debbie Feiker of Wiliamsburg and Betsy Feiker of New Hampshire; and a nephew Chris Feiker of Vermont.
During her lifetime Jean had four special dogs in her life, Tippy (collie), Sniffy, Brucie and Taffy (Welsh Terries and favorite dog). She also had a little Jersey cow while living on the farm. Mahitabel was an exotic acquisition brought home by her Dad on a leash. Jean remembered long black eyelashes and little shiny hoofs. Jean never learned how to milk, that was John's job. She learned to make butter in a hand churn and grew fat on the abundance of cream.
Calling hours at the Czelusniak Funeral Home of Northampton are Friday evening from 5 to 7:30 p.m. Funeral services for Jean will be Saturday morning from the Czelusniak Funeral Home of Northampton at 10 a.m.. with a Rite of Christian Service at 11 a.m. at Edwards Church, 279 Main St., Northampton. Burial services will be private in Bridge Street Cemetery.
Donations in Jean's memory may be made to the Forbes Library, 20 West St., Northampton, MA 01060.
For the kindness and love that have surrounded me all of my life- And for so very much else - music and song, good books, swimming and hiking- But, most of all, for Love- I have been so lucky- Lord, thank you.
Addendum to Thanksgiving Prayer, By Jean Sheehan November 1992.
I sit with my binoculars, entranced by the view outside my window on Sarasota Bay. A few years ago there were only tiny spits of land forming sandbars dotting the landscape, but they gradually have grown until today small mangrove-clad islands have developed.
On the flats between them, at low tide, millions of flashing bait fish lure the sea birds. At sunrise of a chilly Florida day, with a northerly wind bringing an extra low tide, they congregate by the dozens-herons, their cousins, the great white and blue herons, the awkward, but always delightful brown pelicans and the white ibises, interspersed, in search of a meal. Once I was even lucky enough to spot a few woodstorks among the feeders. The spectacle lasts but a short time. Soon the tide turns, the water grows too deep for the wading birds, and with a flurry of wings, they rise in one accord and are gone. One must wait until conditions again are just right. But what a gift is a view such as mine and how lucky I am! Thank you, Lord, thank you.
P.S. Suddenly, in 1994, there were no more birds - pollution - I don't know, but the pelicans have abandoned their roost, too.
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Published in Daily Hampshire Gazette on Apr. 10, 2013
Czelusniak Funeral Home
173 North Street Northampton, MA 01060