Jean was a beautiful woman of remarkable vibrant vitality and a love for life and family and friends, and active sports from her early years until her recent passing (March 16, 1942-December 27, 2021). In early December Jean was admitted to the hospital somewhat against her will as she never trusted the medical system, after her son, Chris, found her suffering. This move saved her life as she had sepsis from a foot wound and she underwent difficult systemic treatment. She also seemed to have suffered small strokes leaving her unable to speak well or use her hands, rise or walk. As she was recovering these abilities she was transferred to a rehab facility that was not very good. Her sons, Jeff and Chris Bauer made sure she was transferred to the best facility available. She began to take hold and seemed to start the road to recovery well. Then, despite being fully vaccinated with the booster but immunocompromised due to her sepsis and treatments she was diagnosed with Covid19. A day later she passed from this world where things had become too hard to bear to the arms of our loving God.
And, oh, the difference to us….
Jean and I were close friends for 57 years and it is very hard to accept that she is gone from us. There is a great void that she had filled with love and bright, sometimes questioning conversation. Her opinions were always strong and there was no doubt as to what she was saying or feeling. But she was also thoughtful and listened and considered well as she spoke. And when you needed her she was right there. Her vitality lit up the world for all who knew her well. Her love was loyal and unwavering, and, for her, those she loved were always first. We shared our Christian Catholic faith in common. She strongly believed in the Risen Christ and the eternal life offered to her through Christ. She was a faithful attendee at weekly Mass in Washingtonville, and at times she attended daily Mass as well. I know that her loving friendship goes beyond the grave until we meet again in the presence of our loving God who does not ask us to bear what we cannot bear. I spoke to Jean a few days before she passed. She was so thankful for the love of her sons and family but she was upset as she saw the length of the road back as daunting and she could not bear immobility or having to depend on others for basic needs. I think God heard her and she is home free and whole with our loving God now. We can rejoice in that. But our profound sadness is in missing her and her love for us.
Jean and I met when we were 22 and 23, after we graduated from Hunter College, CUNY. We had not known each other at Hunter but it was an initial bond between us as we learned how to be social workers and serve foster children and families at the NYC, Bureau of Child Welfare, Division of Foster Home Care (DFHC). We had lunch together frequently and our friendship developed. We would bring lunch and eat in the park or go to little Italy for a special meal. Sometimes she would get the car and we would go to Nathans in Coney Island. We had many jokes about our co-workers and supervisors and could often be seen giggling like kids. She called one boss Casper Milk Toast, and another Hands short for Ugly Big White Hands. Because she drove, she had an Upstate territory that she loved. She was also asked to help deliver the Christmas gifts to all of the children the agency served. We did this together and enjoyed every minute of it. She also assisted me when I worked with teenage foster girls groups, especially when we went on trips. We helped each other to give our best to the children we served.
When inter-agency softball teams were formed they had to be co-ed. Jean and I were the only women on our team and she could out hit and out catch any of the men. They were busy watching her play so they may not have been at their best games. Jean was a talented athlete who especially loved skiing. She tried to teach me and my husband, John, how to ski but I had little talent for it. Watching her soar downhill was a beautiful sight to behold. She was adventurous and even tried flying lessons. She was also a great bowler, but no one in the group could keep up with her.
Our friendship developed outside of work and we had a little group consisting of Jean and me and John and his brother Peter and our friend, Leo Andrews. Her childhood friend Barbara Walsh accompanied us on a trip where we went boating at the Delaware Water Gap. None of us were great at this and we landed out of the boats with our legs scraped by the rocks and the water rushing more often than not. But we had great fun. Sometimes we would stop by her sister Lily’s Italian and Greek Bakery and have delicious goodies. Sometimes we would go to her family home in Fort Lee where her gracious mother would make us fabulous Italian meals. There we would also meet her oldest sister Nella and the girls and sometimes her brother Richie. Over time I felt this wonderful family was my extended family too.
Our favorite outing was to Rockaway Beach and Inlet where we would enjoy the beach and then go clamming. Once we forgot a bucket for the clams. Jean saved the day by stuffing the clams down the front of her swimsuit, much to our laughter. Later she made us spaghetti with our own clam sauce. She moved to Union Street in Brooklyn and our fun continued. She loved driving her Volvo and she helped me deliver my young cousin Jackie from Coney Island to East Brooklyn to see her father. Jackie will never forget how Jean facilitated this important relationship for her.
I left the agency to pursue my MSW in 1967 and by then Jean and I were inseparable friends. John and I joined Jean in her summer trips to the family home in San Lorenzo in Banale in the Italian Alps near the beautiful Lake Molveno. We loved seeing her parents and Nella and the family there as well. We loved that beautiful mountain town framed by the prominent church steeple and the clouds in the sky. We loved our side trips with Jean and exploring the Alto Adige and Dolomites with her and her father Eligio while her mother and Nella prepared wonderful meals.
The Agency paid for our Master’s studies and Jean took her MSW at Adelphi a little later. She then enjoyed working creatively with Senior Citizens groups. But what called Jean most was the desire to be a mother. It was wonderful when she met Gene Bauer and they married. They were truly a handsome couple. I enjoyed being her Matron Of Honor and Gene’s brother Dick was the best man. When Gene and Jean moved upstate to Washingtonville Gene would meet me in the city and drive me up to spend the weekends with them. He appreciated that I had been a PAL worker too. Jean loved Washingtonville and the beautiful piece of land and her house. Her love was poured into gardening and landscaping and cooking her wonderful Italian cuisine, and caring for her various kitties.
Once the children came in 1976 and 1977 her love was lavished upon them. She loved each very different son fully and unconditionally. Her job as mother was the one she loved the most. I loved seeing her play with the boys, especially in the snow. I remember also the happy times when Jean brought the boys to visit me in West Hartford when I taught at UConn School of Social Work. We loved taking nearby trips and it was a pleasure to see the boys so happy in their discoveries of the world. With Jean’s love and creativity, it is no wonder that Jeff and Chris are such remarkable men today. When they married well and the grandchildren came it was Jean’s greatest joy to be with them. Nona was her favorite title.
Jean told me about each of her wonderful grandchildren with love and pride. She told me about Jeff’s family visiting her and her trips to Washington including her last trip to see they youngest girl make her First Holy Communion. That trip was very hard on Jean physically but she loved every minute of it. And visiting Chris and his family in NYC and the Hamptons was the highlight of her later years. Jean was the unusual woman, these days, whose life was her family, and all profited from her love.
Jean loved visiting in Florida since we moved to Fort Myers in 1998. We enjoyed many times at the poolside and at the beach. Jean was at my side in support when I was ordained a Roman Catholic Woman Priest in 2008. She helped with our Good Shepherd Ministry here as well. When my life partner and her good friend, Judy Beaumont, died of leukemia in January of 2018 Jean understood the depth of my grief. She came to stay with me in February when we had the Memorial Mass and Celebration of Life and she literally got me through it.
Then Covid came and we could not see each other again, even after the loss of Gene in February of 2021. Yet we maintained our strong mutual support on the phone, always enjoying our long talks where we would remember to laugh. She would want you to remember the good times, and remember her love, and remember to laugh. She is loving us always.
With Love and Prayers,
Rev. Dr. Judith Lee, RCWP
Pastor Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Church,
Fort Myers, Florida
January 1, 2022