Vol. 9, No. 29
July 19-25, 2001
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Appreciation: Jean Hatch ~ 1928 - 2001
North Beach’s ‘Flower Lady’ Planted As Many Memories As Seeds

by Patricia Kirby

Like a flower felled by a sudden summer storm, Jean Hatch left us earlier this month. Her departure left the town in disbelief. Jean gone?

That exuberant 70-something whose energy put the rest of us to shame?

The impetus - and imp - behind most of North Beach’s flower and tree beautification, which has won so many compliments?

The reigning queen of the storied silliness of the town’s now traditional Columbus Day celebration?

We’d watched Jean care for her ailing husband Larry over the past few years, but she had hardly ever been ill. The college sweethearts had celebrated their golden anniversary this past winter. With Larry in remission at last as Jean’s famed primroses bloomed, their lives seemed retouched with gold.

Yet cancer had staked a prior claim. Occasionally, we began to hear Jean say she wasn’t feeling her best. But the usual rounds of summer viruses were underway. Working on a neighbor’s fence contributed to her growing yet undefined mix of maladies. She started losing weight from her already petite frame. Still she’d pick up the phone with her trademark chirp, “Hello, hel-lllooo!”

Jean’s difficult last days made up for her having eluded illness so long. But she had the good fortune to be surrounded by most of her loving family at the end. Though death came cruelly, it was mercifully quick. Now it was up to us who knew and loved Jean to deal with its blows. Sidewalks and phone lines came alive with the sad news.

The departure of someone so much at the heart of a town’s life can have several effects. We could send up salvos of questions like our fireworks on the Fourth. We could sit down in aimless despair as we might toss pebbles against the ebb tide. Or we could move on, motivated by the brightest smile and disposition on the boardwalk. We knew that would be what North Beach’s Flower Lady would want.

As the week wore on between Jean’s death and funeral, we began sharing our favorite memories. Dale Thomas, owner of Nice and Fleazy Antiques, recalled Jean and Larry at local dances “out on the floor for every number, dancing fast and hard.” He and Barbara Gray, both of the House and Garden Club, pictured Jean “typically upside down” because she was so often planting seeds.

What better traits for a kindergarten teacher? To see Jean leading children’s activities for the Tree Committee at Bayfest was a small taste of why - when she reapplied to teach after time off during Larry’s time with the U.S. military in Germany - top brass ordered, “Do whatever it takes to get her back.”

Jean had a knack for rounding up people to make things happen. A son recalled her standing with neighborhood children in a human chain to ensure that snow trucks couldn’t get in and destroy good sledding.

Jean also had a gift for forthrightness tempered with friendship. Her brow could knit and her eyes turn into piercing beads as she sized up a troublesome situation, but you felt that her heart had never gone anywhere. She was also the quintessential giver. Whatever you needed, whenever you needed it, Jean was there.

July gave us two gorgeous days for final celebration of Jean’s life. Picture collages from Jean’s life made it easy for family and friends to trade stories, ranging from simply amusing to outright hilarious.

The same mood prevailed at the little church on Mt. Harmony Road where Jean had worshipped. Among the organ renditions before the service was one that nobody recalled seeing in a hymnal, “Let Me Call You Sweetheart.” To this accompaniment, Jean was brought into the church. Many of the eulogies ended in certitude that Jean had started a garden in Heaven’s green meadows.

Jean will live on in plans for North Beach’s continued beautification. The House and Garden Club will dedicate a boardwalk bench in her honor. The Tree Committee will raffle the children’s classic The Giving Tree as a metaphor of Jean’s life. The Boys and Girls Club will set up a “teaching garden” for youngsters to plant and care for living things.

Our Flower Lady truly bloomed where she was planted.

Copyright 2001
Bay Weekly