AUSTIN GRETTA JANE (MARTIN) AUSTIN "Tutu" (Age 96) Librarian Gretta "Jane" Austin, formerly of Clinton, Maryland, died on October 14, 2012 in La Plata, Maryland at the Charles County Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. Gretta Jane (Martin) was born on March 7, 1916 in Saltsburg, Pennsylvania. As a premature baby, thought to be dead, she was wrapped in newspaper and placed in a bathtub. Luckily a nurse later noticed that the baby was alive and thanks to her Gretta Jane went on to have many more close calls. Jane was predeceased by her husband Thomas S. (Tommy) Austin. Gretta and Tommy met at the freshman sodbuster dance at Grove City College, Pennsylvania. They were both attending college, thanks to the Roosevelt College Aid Program, which funded work-study jobs for students. While at Grove City, Gretta majored in mathematics and minored in library sciences. Because schools would not hire a woman as a math teacher, Jane turned to her love of books and reading and became a career librarian. One of her earliest positions was with the Yale Medical Library while Tommy attended Yale studying marine sciences. They were secretly married to be together at Yale, but later returned to Grove City College and were re-married in the school chapel for family and friends. Tommy's work as an Oceanographer led them to Key West, Florida and then to Washington DC when the unthinkable happened and Tommy contracted poliomyelitis at the age of 35. With three small children, no driver's license, and a husband in the hospital for over a year (not expected to live) Jane kept the boat afloat. Thanks to all the wonderful friends that helped, she was able to visit her husband daily and care for her children. Tommy was moved to Warms Springs, Georgia, to the Polio Rehab Center. Jane managed to find a "shanty" that no one else would rent to live with her children since it was within walking distance of the Rehab Center. As the young couple adjusted to the care needs of a quadriplegic, Tommy accepted a job with the Biological Survey, Fish and Wildlife Service, in Honolulu, Hawaii. This started them on one of the most rewarding parts of their lives. Not only was Hawaii a warm and inviting place in the 1950's and 60's but everyone they met was totally accepting of Tommy's life in a wheelchair. They enjoyed the next 10 years there. During her career Jane worked as a librarian at many schools from elementary level to high school level but one of her favorites was being the librarian in Cooke Library at Punahou School in Honolulu. When Tommy accepted a job back in Washington DC in 1962 Jane became a librarian in the Maryland school system. The early years involved traveling all over southern Maryland to care for many of elementary school libraries. During the two years they relocated to Miami for Tommy's job, Jane was librarian at Key Biscayne Elementary School, and then it was back to the Washington area where Jane resumed working for the state of Maryland school system as a media specialist. Even after her retirement Jane continued to volunteer for Prince Georges County for many years. Jane has spent the last fifteen years living in retirement and health facilities first in Virginia and then back to Maryland to be closer to family. Her final residence was in La Plata, Maryland at the Charles County Nursing and Rehabilitations Center where she received excellent care. Jane donated her body to the George Washington Medical School as did her husband Tommy. She is survived by her three children Herbert Austin of Hayes, VA, Thomas Austin, Jr., of Williamsburg, VA and Claudia (Angle) Austin of Raleigh, NC. She was known as Tutu to her six grandchildren, Lea, Thomas, Conrad, Alex, Gretta, and Pamela and her eight great-grandchildren. A private gathering will be held to remember Jane.
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Published in The Washington Post on Nov. 6, 2012