Jane White Cooke (1913 - 2011)

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SHELBURNE - Jane White Cooke, 98, formerly of New York City and more recently of Montpelier, died May 8, 2011, at her daughter's home in Shelburne, surrounded by her family.

Born Frances Jane White in Montclair, N.J., on Jan. 10, 1913, she was the daughter of William Penn White and Frances Kenison. After her father died when Jane was nine, her mother, a resourceful and independent woman, took her three daughters to Tours, France, and Lausanne, Switzerland, where they lived in pensions for two years. While abroad, Jane attended school, became fluent in French and developed a lifelong love for art.

Early in her life she loved to draw and often said, "For some reason I was able to capture a likeness." Upon graduating from high school in New Jersey, she moved to New York City to take classes at the Art Students League and attend the National Academy of Design, where a prolific career was launched. At the academy, she made many friends, among them Robert McCloskey, whose baby ducks she kept in her bathtub while he wrote the children's book "Make Way for Ducklings." After the academy, she was awarded a fellowship to study art in Florence, Italy, where she rented a studio on the Costa San Giorgio and led a bohemian life, devoted to painting and fun.

In 1937, Jane married a childhood friend, Dr. Whitfield Hawkes, and returned to New York City from Italy. Together they had two children, Frances Ann "Holly" and Stephen Whitfield. Dr. Hawkes died in the South Pacific during World War II in 1943. Three years later, Jane married Alistair Cooke, a British-born reporter for the BBC and Manchester Guardian. They had a daughter, Susan Byrne, in 1949.

Jane was devoted to her family and her art and had a studio in Manhattan. Although she loved the vibrancy of the city, her favorite place was the family's beach house on the North Fork of Long Island, where she spent more than 60 summers; it was her spiritual home.

Jane created hundreds of paintings, including portraits, still lifes and landscapes of her beloved Long Island. Her paintings of Nathan Milstein and Alistair Cooke reside at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., and hundreds of her paintings are collected at janewhite.org.

Inspired by seeing different places, Jane's art is a testimony to the inspiration she derived from the trips she and Alistair took around the world. They regularly stayed in London and in San Francisco, where they had family and many friends.

Although Jane and Alistair's circle of friends included many renowned individuals, she was not swayed by fame or fortune. Being married to a public personality was not always easy for Jane, but her art and devotion to her family rescued her from the glaring spotlight of her husband's fame.

In 2004, Alistair died and Jane remained in Manhattan for two years before moving to Vermont to be closer to her daughter, Susan, and her family. As was her wont, she made good friends in Vermont, spanning generations. Until the last week of her life, she enjoyed her evening ritual of scotch and soda, a cigarette and lively conversation.

Jane died on Mother's Day morning with her daughter Susan at her side. She is survived by her daughter, Holly Hawkes Rumbold, and her husband Henry, of London, England; her son, Stephen Whitfield Hawkes and his wife, Paula, of Healdsburg, Calif.; and her daughter, Susan Cooke Kittredge, and her husband, Charlie, of Shelburne. In addition, she leaves a stepson, John Cooke, of Jackson, Wyo. She is also survived by 10 grandchildren and their families, including 12 great-grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held Sunday, May 29, at 1 p.m., at the Old Meeting House in East Montpelier Center.

Those wishing to send condolences may do so at www.guareandson.com and go to Jane's obituary.
Published in Times Argus on May 10, 2011