Jean was born to Edith (nee Brown) and Arthur Stephens in Leeds, in the north of England on 13 July, 1925. She was the third of four children, Sid, Lillian, Jean and Evelyn. Christened Agnes, Jean always hated her name and at the first available opportunity (aged 9) changed it to Jean, because, she said, it was one of the most common names of the day and she could blend in.
When Jean was young, the family moved south to Essex on the outskirts of London. Her mother Edith (who could never settle and was looking for greater excitement in life) frequently relocated and as a result, Jean attended seven different schools during her short education. At age 14, with household money tight, she was told to “go out and find a job”. With no instructions or help on how to do this Jean spent the day walking around town, eventually spotting an advertisement in a shop window for a junior assistant. She was subsequently hired, and over the coming years Jean worked in a shoe factory, a photography shop and for a short time, a munitions factory.
By 1941 with WWII under way and a less than happy home life, Jean, then aged 16, leapt at the opportunity to go and live with her older sister Lillian whose husband Fred was away at war. Jean and Lillian took up ballroom dancing and Lillian introduced Jean to the Nimbus – a dance club above a drapers shop in Romford Market (Essex). Jean took lessons there 2 to 3 times a week, eventually earning her bronze medal for ballroom dancing. However, for “fun” dancing, she went to the Palais Royal. It was here that she met her future husband, Arthur.
Despite the war, Jean was out dancing most nights of the week, often walking home to the sound of air raid sirens and exploding bombs. Fun loving and with her green eyes and auburn hair, Jean was not short of suitors. She received 5 proposals of marriage, but it was Arthur who won the day. In 1946, on Jean’s 21st birthday, they were married.
With little money they spent their first years of marriage sharing a two bedroom apartment in Upminster with friends, Don and Janet Wheatley. Arthur went into business with his father, running a small music shop (Wells Music Stores) and worked hard. By the time Arthur and Jean’s first child, Marilyn, (Lynn) was born in 1948, Arthur had saved enough money to build a three bedroom house (also in Upminster). Daughter Janette, (Shan) was born in 1955, Ian in 1958 and Karen in 1960.
In 1972 the family moved to “The Mount” – a beautiful 8 bedroom Tudor house in gentrified Lamberhurst, Kent. Arthur and Jean bought the house from then Government Minister for Education, Margaret Thatcher. It was the making and the breaking of the family. With a 2 hour commute to his business, Arthur started staying in Essex during the week, and eventually the marriage broke down.
After The Mount was sold in 1982 Jean eventually moved to Bexhill, Sussex to be closer to her sister Lillian. Here she found her voice again and helped set up the Active Retired Persons’ club, becoming the main organizer for their many outings and social engagements. True to her gentle and loving nature she stayed close to Arthur and when he moved to a retirement home in Bexhill, Jean still helped look after him until his death in 2012.
In 2014 Jean decided to move to Durham, N.C. to be closer to Ian and his family. A brave move at the age of 89. At her new home at the Atria she soon found new friendships and a place she could call home. To Jean, home was wherever she was with people she loved.
Jean had a generous loving heart, an infectious laugh, and a wicked sense of humor. The teller of great stories and terrible jokes (often forgetting the punch line when she got there), she always put her family first and her friends a close second. Jean’s love and warmth was contagious and she left a wake of friends behind her wherever she went. Jean is survived by her four children Lynn, Shan, Ian and Karen and five grandchildren Winston, Stuart, Emma, Claire and Phoebe. She will be missed by us all.