Jeanette M. Gillerman Pepper Bello

Obituary
2 entries
  • "I knew and admired Jeanette when we were close in 1944-til..."
    - Phyllis Herwitz Kline
  • "What a rich, full and inspiring life! So sorry I'll be out..."
    - Kitty Costello
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1918 - 2016
Known for her courage and idealism, blacklisted economist Jeanette Pepper was a role model to many generations. She appears in books and films about the domestic cold war including titles by Larry Ceplair and Diana Anhalt.

Jeanette was born in Providence, Rhode Island in 1918 and by age twenty had graduated Wellesley College with an economics degree. During World War II, she landed a job in the Roosevelt administration's OSS Research and Analysis division, then following the war, at the Inter-Governmental Committee on Refugees. Her grizzliest task involved taking inventory of valuables confiscated from concentration camps, particularly "non-monetary gold" like the melted-down gold teeth of slain prisoners. The suffering of millions of refugees and depression era inequity deeply affected Jeanette, propelling her to work for social justice and to join the communist party (CP.) "Anybody who was anybody was a member of the CP," she maintained.

Jeanette later served as the Executive Secretary for the "Committee of One-Thousand" organized to abolish the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC.) Its chair, astronomer Harlow Shapley, introduced Jeanette to George Pepper, a fellow CP member in charge of the Western branch of the Henry Wallace campaign. They married in 1948. The couple spent their honeymoon in the vacation home of Songwriter Yip Harburg ("Over the Rainbow.")

George, an influential Hollywood organizer, was investigated (along with other alleged communists like singer Paul Robeson and actor Edward G. Robinson) by the California Committee on Un-American Activities run by Senator Jack Tenney. Facing a subpoena that could have landed him in jail for refusing to testify, George fled to Mexico, followed by Jeanette.

A few years later the couple was joined in exile by their close friends, Cleo and Dalton Trumbo-one of the Hollywood Ten who had just served prison time for refusing to answer two questions posed by HUAC. Jeanette found herself in a supportive intellectual community that at one time or another included Luis Buñuel, Bertolt Brecht, Miguel Covarrubias, Otto Preminger, Marilyn Monroe, Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and his model, Nieves Orozco.

In Mexico, Jeanette taught statistics at Mexico City College; George produced films, using the alias George Werker. Their daughter, Margot Eve, was born in 1962. Seven years later George died of lung cancer. Jeanette, sent her daughter ahead to California to live with the Trumbos while she finished packing up two decades of memories and art. They lived there until she landed a job as a statistician with attorney Ben Margolis. In 1976, she married musician Myer Bello and served as treasurer of the "Women For" PAC. She was predeceased by her second husband and in 2007 moved to Piedmont Gardens in Oakland.

Jeanette is survived by her daughter Margot Pepper, son-in-law Jess Clarke, grandson Rafael, step-daughter Cheryl, step-grandson Mitchell, eight niblings, and many friends and admirers. There will be a celebration of her life and ideals in the Piedmont Gardens Sky Room at 2:00 pm on January 15, 2017 in honor of one of her heroes, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Published on NYTimes.com from Jan. 2 to Jan. 3, 2017