Jean Hocker Guth
November 20, 1927 – September 14, 2020
As Jean was so prone to say, the sins of the father (for me, the family) are visited upon the children to the third and fourth generation. I would add that the blessings of family are also visited upon future generations. I am the youngest of the six siblings in Jean’s birth family. As you might anticipate, as a child Jean was an important mentor and role model. Being highly influenced by Hollywood movies, to me she was the star of the film – pretty, kind, smart, and purpose driven. She was the first to go to college, where I was very impressed that she was prom queen (something I suspected would never happen for me) and that she won all kinds of academic awards.
As a young adult, I began to appreciate my “big sister” in a different vein. I discovered, to my surprise that I wasn’t a fan of her style of clothing and that unlike her, I really didn’t want to become a home economist (I was impatient with sewing and couldn’t imagine teaching cooking and nutrition). Instead I began to see the strength she had to face trying times. Over the years, I recognized how difficult it was for her to deal with the reality that her husband might not return from assignments in Korea or Viet Nam. I saw how adaptable she was to new challenges and took that as a good example to follow, particular how she was among the first officers’ wives to be sent to the Monterrey Language school, where she learned and mastered Turkish– and as she told, also learned that learning a new language was very difficult for her. Her life clearly demonstrated that earthly possessions are not as important as stability of family and faith in God, and that throughout our lives, we are called to accept new challenges, learn from setbacks, and to always see and thank God for the blessings in our lives.
One of the blessings was that we were born into a Christian family. My father’s family were United Brethren Brethren, my mother’s Lutheran. As a child, Jean first attended Sunday School in the small Brethren Church (now Swopes United Methodist Church) that was adjacent to our grandparent’s farm – she often shared with me important spiritual insights planted within that church. By the time, I was born, our family had moved into Hummelstown, a small typical 1940’s town – with boy and girl scouts, Sunday church, and Friday night football games. So, my childhood and college Christian context became the Lutheran Church we attended. As adults, Jean and I often exchanged our different perspectives on Christianity, which grew out of our different experiences. Throughout our lives, we traveled along different paths. suppose it is fair to say that she was more strictly scripturally based, while my adult journey as an Episcopalian has led me into a path illuminated by scripture, tradition and reason. As you might expect, this resulted in some pretty intense discussions, that for me always came back to the heart of the gospel and, salvation through compassion, love, and forgiveness; but we had different theological language for expressing this. These conversations continued almost right up to Jean’s last two weeks of life on this earth.
Over the years, I marveled at Jean’s spirit of adventure. She seemed to easily move and live in different places and cultures, including Turkey where Carol, her husband, was assigned to the American Embassy. And when Carol was in Viet Nam, for several months she and her three children traveled and lived throughout Europe. Peter, Ted and Craig can share some of the wonderful experiences during that trip. That spirit persisted throughout her life. After she and Carol moved to Annapolis, I know that she accepted short-term teaching missionary assignment to teach and live in China and Moldovia. I still vividly recall her describing the wiggling worms her team was served, as a Chinese delicacy, and how she smiled as she ate them and thanked the hosts for their graciousness.
As I suspect many of you may know, Jean was a surprising mixture of intensity and lightness. I will always treasure the way her face could light up with laughter until the tears ran down her cheeks. And I will never forget that when we spent extended time together, whether at our parent’s Pennsylvania farm, or at sibling reunions, or wherever we were (and this last six months that has been over the phone) – I always knew her enormous energy would outstrip my own. It was not unusual for me to go to bed (exhausted from talk) only to have Jean awake me early the next morning to continue the paragraph where we left off. Yet she was always quick to back away when it was apparent we were either not going to agree or see things in the same way or when I would say, “Jean, I just don’t have the energy to go there now.”
Jean was the bulwark of our family. As a young adult, I quickly learned to turn to her for news of my other siblings, to expect her to attend to the needs of our parents and relatives, and to count on the fact that she would always stay in touch with us all. After our parents both died, she was instrumental in our organizing annual sibling and spouse reunions in interesting places. For several years, she “engineered” that we would each write up a short episode from our childhood and read them while together. I still cherish the copies of those stories and have photocopies of family photos and writings by our parents that she circulated to all of us.
In the last months of her life, we had many long conversations. In this sense the pandemic blessed us with unscheduled time. But I sensed that the isolation imposed by the pandemic was particularly disconcerting for Jean, who was essentially “imprisoned” in her room – whereas, having visited her several times at Sunrise, I saw how she socially touched the lives of many people living there. I also knew that she was fully aware of her earthly death, having been diagnosed with colon cancer and having made the decision not to have surgery or chemo therapy. So mentally she was reviewing her life to acknowledge her sinfulness and confirm her faith. In those last months, she revisited her Christian Journey – sharing with me past experiences painful and blessed, theological concepts important to her soul, the acceptance of her sinfulness and God’s forgiveness, and above all gave thanks and praise to Our Lord. When I learned she had died, I thanked her and God for giving me the privilege to share her transition from this earthly world into the Kingdom of God. I am deeply grateful that I was blessed to have such a compassionate and loving sister.
Tributes from Nieces and Nephews
Our Aunt let me know today about Aunt Jean crossing the river. I am sad to hear it, she was one of the fixed points on my compass. The keeper of family history, the tireless letter writer, ever curious about the world and our place in it. It was always a pleasure to talk to her, and one of the highlights of visiting Annapolis. I was able to understand my father much better by talking to her and my Uncle. I will miss her. She lived a long life with many adventures and has earned her rest.
I have a hologram in my mind's eye of Jean sitting in front of 2 large computer screens, connecting with all of her friends and family all over the world. Amazing. She radiated energy and kindness and will be missed by many.
I am thinking of you this week as you adjust to life on this earth without your mother. I was so glad I was able to talk to her one last time not too long ago. One memory I have of your Mom is that she was the "keeper of the photos" and she would often send us photos to help us remember family. In keeping with that I am sending a few photos.
I am so sad your mother has passed away. I have had several wonderful phone conversations with her over the past few months - the last one was on 8/29 (I just checked my phone out of curiosity). I am so sad I can't have more phone calls with her and I was hoping to visit this year but COVID messed that all up. I still have a voice mail from her on my phone that I hadn't deleted - nice to have it to hear her voice. I am amazed by her energy and clarity at her age! She told me the last time we talked on the phone that her appetite was better and that she was going outside and having visits from you all - what a blessing! I am so impressed she endured such a long quarantine and maintained her upbeat nature - I truly don't think I could have done it. She always had so many great stories to share about my mother and about her life. She was truly such an amazing smart woman with so many fantastic accomplishments. As my mother was not able to speak/talk well, particularly on the phone, the last few years of her life, it was such a joy to hear your mom being so coherent and lively on the phone. She was always saying how her memory was not good (short term), but she sure could remember the past so beautifully including what year things took place! I wish I could remember my life as well as she remembered hers. In recent years I have been reading and studying the bible - something I hadn't done earlier in my life. It was wonderful to talk to her about my faith and learn more about her faith. I've known most of my life how committed she was to her Christian faith and to Jesus Christ, but I truly never understood it. I understand much more now and I will miss her loving excitement. She was also amazingly well read - to hear her talk about her library was impressive. I also learned more about all the missionary work she did - she truly was a giving servant. I love looking at pictures of your mom because she reminds me of Grandpa. I think she, of all Grandpa's children, had the most likeness to him.
1:00 pm - 1:30 pm
Arlington National Cemetery