Sunday, November 1, 2015

Eulogy for Jean Thompson

Jean at sixteen

On Sunday, September 20th, my cousin, Jean Thompson, passed away.

Jean grew up in Kansas, and I grew up in California. I didn't even know she existed until I was in my late 40's, doing research for Tainted Legacy, and Alice Lee (Zangaro) suggested I call her for information on the Williams family, telling me that we were probably related. We were, but I didn't know that until Jean kindly sent me pages and pages of the Williams genealogy. I had some trepidation about calling her at first, but she was immediately kind, open and embracing—characteristics which she apparently extended to most folks throughout her life, regardless of how she met them.

It seems strange to acknowledge that I never met her in person. After we connected, we spoke every few months by telephone; whenever I had an hour or so to spare on a Sunday and needed to laugh, I would call her. Because she and my grandmother grew up in the same geographical region (although Jean was much, much younger), she reminded me of Grandma Lila every time we spoke, using such expressions as "I'm not a-gonna do it" (something she stated emphatically to the doctor who told her to quit smoking) and adding that elusive "r" to "warsh, as in, "We had to warsh up the floor after Murphy brought us a bird this mornin'." Murphy was her black cat.

Like all the women in the Williams line, including my mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, Jean might have seemed simple in her speech and demeanor, but she was highly sophisticated in her intellect and insight into the human condition. Our conversations always began with light-hearted, jovial humor, but at some point we would begin to talk about our kids and grandkids, and she amazed me with what she understood about human behavior. Truly, she was an old soul with unfathomable wisdom.

Beyond that, the attribute most characteristic of her was the love she exuded for everyone, and I mean everyone. She adored her children, her grandchildren and her great-grandchildren—and everyone associated with them. Although she'd never spoken to any of my kids or grandkids, she asked about them often when we talked. At the end of every conversation, we always engaged in a gentle competition to see who could out-love the other. ("I love you a million." "Times ten! Ha ha ha!" "I love you to the moon and back!") Jean always won.

When she passed, the outpouring on her Facebook page was extraordinary. People are still posting notes of love and remembrance all these weeks later. She is deeply and daily missed by her family. She is certainly missed by me. And she will be missed by all those great-grands who grow up without her influence. But she has left a legacy in the way she has raised her children, and they will now step up to be those who readily love and embrace others as she did, a great heirloom to treasure from a truly great lady.


  1. What a beautiful tribute. I am not a blood relative of Jeannie's, but she and her family always treated me like I was. Jeannie had a way of taking in strays (both animals and kids in the neighborhood). FYI, they lived catty corner from me until they moved a couple of blocks away. (In a town of around 1,000, that just meant a few more steps to go over there!

    Jeannie had told me about some distant lady in her family tree who had been a killer. I had no idea that she may also have assisted you with your research on the book. One of these days I'm going to have to purchase a copy as it has me even more interested now...

    One area that she may not have gotten enough credit was that she was a great story teller. She had a way of talking about things that made it interesting to listen to. For instance, she mentioned some direct ancestor who was one of identical twin boys who were born so premature that they placed them in shoeboxes and put them near the stove to keep them warm -- both grew up just fine.
    She also told the story about how her second son was able to accept loosing his place as the baby in the family when her third son was born. (Basically, he was fine with the new baby as long as it was named "Duke" after his favorite cowboy -- John Wayne. For years, I assumed that Duke was a family name! It actually wasn't his legal name at all, but everybody called him that.)

    The neat thing about genealogy is that you do meat some of the most wonderful people who will go out of their way to help you -- sometimes even if they are not related.

    I was simply lucky enough to know her and her family growing up. One of the ways I was reminded that she was special was that I had lost touch when they had left town to go back to Coldwater and I myself had made my home in another part of the state of Kansas. After many years that we hadn't kept in touch, she found my phone number and called me up out of the blue. We talked as if we were just continuing a conversation from a few days ago. That was the kind of lady she was.

    1. So many people have said the same to me--that no matter what the length of time between conversations, she just picked up wherever she left off with whomever. I will miss her love and laughter in my life, and I hope it guides me as I reach out to others.

  2. wonderful tribute, for sure. We need more people like her. Now, more than ever.. glenn