Born March 14, 1958 in Mount Vernon, Indiana; died June 12th, 2016, of cardiac arrest, in Campbell River, BC. Jean was John and Pamela Brown’s daughter and sister to three older brothers. She married Bill Holland in 1982, and they were divorced in 1996. For the last 36 years of her life, she was a loving mother to her sons, Nigel and Nicholas.
A happy child, Jean could be quite funny. “My three rotten brothers stepped on an ant and then put it in a matchbox,” she once wrote. “They then instructed me to go to the backyard with a spoon and give the dearly departed a decent burial. As I was walking back into the house to report a job well done, my foot landed on a wasp. And I began howling in pain. My brothers all found this extremely funny. They thought I was mourning the bloody ant!”
My brother Jack and I would often tease her by calling her “Little Itch” – the name coming from an afternoon cartoon show we watched on a black-and-white television set. The original Itchy was an anthropomorphic mouse. She hated the nickname at first, but I, at least, continued to use it to the end of her life.
“I remember the little blonde heart-stealer, full of energy who adored her older brothers,” our cousin Angela wrote when hearing of her passing.
When I left home for university in 1965, she was only seven years old, so the times we spent together after that were primarily family holidays and phone calls. During those years she had a difficult adolescence, but our parents worked hard to keep her on an even keel. “We do the best we can,” my father would sigh when things were at their worst. The “worst” generally involved dealing with addiction issues, which contemporary thinking sees as a medical rather than a moral issue.
Jean resented our parents’ move from the US to Vancouver Island in 1972, but she rarely left the island thereafter; the laid-back island lifestyle seemed to suit her well. About 1981, she met her husband-to-be, Bill Holland, who worked as a tree topper in the British Columbia forest industry.
Our parents moved from Sidney B.C. to Qualicum Beach to be near them. Jeannie and Bill owned a small, quaint house where they kept chickens and raised their children.
Jean and her father enjoyed a classic father-daughter relationship. He adored her; she idolized him.
Throughout the 1980s, she and her mother were ”best friends” – on the phone to each other many times a day, frequently browsing for treasures at garage sales. She accumulated quite an impressive collection of old dolls at those sales, and secured a government grant to develop a doll repair business. Her room full of antique dolls was a delight to adults and children alike. She could fix any doll and bring it back to life.
As the boys in our family brought their wives and girlfriends to see our parents, Jeannie was always kind and thoughtful. She loved my first wife’s mother, and couldn’t get over the fuss that lady would make over her. She had years of sobriety when she and Bill would go to church almost every Sunday, and they became quite involved with a local church group.
Jean’s life quickly changed after our father died, however, perhaps because of her grief over Dad’s passing. She and Bill went to a rock concert and, “for old times’ sake,”smoked up. From then on they struggled to maintain sobriety. They later divorced, and Jean became a single mother. She adored her boys above all else.
Jean’s boys were the joy of her life. In 1999 Jean and her kids visited me and my family during the Calgary Stampede. At that time, she had been drug-free for the better part of two years and was rightly proud of that achievement. Nigel and Nicholas were 11 and 12, and full of curiosity.
I last spoke to her three months ago, to tell her that our brother Jack had died on April 20th. She cried when she heard the news, and said “as the youngest, I will watch all of you die.” She left us barely seven weeks later. I didn’t learn of her passing until nearly a month after she was gone, because holidays made me inaccessible.
Our cousin Angela best summarized the deaths of Jean and her brother, which came so close together. “All lives have purpose,” she said. “Perhaps theirs is to be with each other in spirit, wherever it drifts.”
I already miss my phone calls with Little Itch.
By Peter McKenzie-Brown
Thank you to Jasbir Gill for helping me with these memories.