A Cherished Life of Divine Love and Friendship
Jean Margaret De Wolf passed away peacefully and gently at home in Surprise, Arizona on June 9, 2020, 4 months to the day from her wedding anniversary; her husband, Gregg, was by her side as she left the body. Jean’s immediate cause of death was finally attributed to diastolic dysfunction heart failure due to atherosclerotic vascular disease, with significant contributing conditions of rapidly advancing dementia and also liver disease. Jean’s death was preceded by her parents, George Hulbert Mungham and Ellen Edith Mungham (common law husband and wife), her older half-siblings Ellen Edith (Holland) Gorman and George Charles Holland. The status of her younger brother John Mungham is unknown, as he intentionally left all family relationships years ago to live a private life, apparently changing his name to avoid tracing. Jean did not have any children.
Jean was born on February 7, 1934, in Edgware, northwest London, England. The family later moved to Goldsmith Lane in Kingsbury, also in the northwest area. Jean and her family survived the WWII bombings of London that included the destruction of many houses and families on her Kingsbury street, and German air attacks in Bournemouth on the south coast where they had moved in 1944. In Kingsbury up through age 10, she and her friends would play in the bombed buildings and craters in the fields.
During her last year in in high school, the school leaving age had been increased by a year. Since a new curriculum had not yet been developed, Jean and her classmates only had to choose elective classes from the prior year's curriculum. Jean spent a lot of time in the pool through physical education classes and became an expert swimmer. The pool was adjacent to the beach near the Bournemouth pier.
She and her friends would sometimes enter the pool through an open window after hours at night to swim. All innocent and daring fun. One night, an Asian male swim friend walked Jean home. Mother was waiting on the corner, grabbed Jean, slapped her (assuming the worst), and pulled her back to the house. This embarrassed both her and the friend, who had done nothing wrong...
Jean became a professional swimmer and high diver in Roy Fransen’s troupe, participating in Esther Williams-type swim shows around England. Johnny Rasch was the lead high diver (second only to Roy), and he and Jean performed several dangerous pair dives from up to 10 meters that the other female divers in the troupe would not dare to attempt, such as the Javelin.
One aqua show called “Christmas Cascades” was given during winter in Manchester and was televised, but there was no live audience due to awfully bad weather. A large tank was used as a pool and was filled with extremely cold water from fire hydrants. Immersion heaters kept blowing the circuits, so the swimmers had to perform without warmed water. They had to smile for the cameras through the pain. Steam radiators were used as seats to get warm between sets. Jean’s Dad occasionally travelled to see some of her shows. Mother never did attend; this left Jean confused and hurt.
One time at a swim show, she saw famous singer and comedian George Formby in the audience. What stuck in her memory was his broad butt, aimed in her direction, when he bent over to get his seat ready. Smile!
At the age of 20, she met Robert W. Rockwell, a USAF serviceman posted in England and billeted in Bournemouth. During their short courtship, there were ominous signs of what Jean's future might be like with him. In one instance, one of Jean’s friends knocked on her door and said, “Your Robert is laying in the gutter down the street, drunk!”.
Jean emigrated to the U.S. in 1954 to marry Robert. Her passage to America was on the RMS Queen Elizabeth, destination New York where Robert was being stationed at Sampson Air Force Base adjacent to Seneca Lake.
Jean and Robert (Rocky) lived in Ovid, New York for several years, and Jean obtained U.S. citizenship in 1956. Their relationship became as rocky as Robert’s nickname; he had become a physical abuser… When Jean spoke to a friend to get advice on what to do, she was told, “You wouldn’t want to get him demoted and lose pay, would you?”. So, she never took any action.
Robert and Jean were transferred back to England for a time, and then to California. Robert went first from England to California, and Jean was to follow once Robert was billeted into housing. Their travel orders had been cut individually. He sent her a letter telling her not to forget to bring the vacuum cleaner, because “It's dusty here”. Jean thought how stupid that was, as England is on 230 volts and the U.S. on 120 volts; it would not have worked in the U.S. (without a converter, but Robert wasn’t aware).
Jean took this opportunity to split with Robert, having had enough of his physical and mental abuse. She disregarded the orders (and the vacuum cleaner) that would have taken her to California and paid her own passage on the Britannic to New York, and then on by bus to stay with a friend in South Carolina whom she had met while living in Ovid. During the 1959 passage, Jean threw her marriage ring overboard; she often thought later if it might show up in someone’s fish dinner one day! She rode in on a hurricane as Hurricane Gracie hit South Carolina. She and Robert eventually obtained a divorce in 1962 without ever seeing each other again. Robert passed away in 1987.
In South Carolina, Jean worked for the state highway department doing key-punch processing of officers' expenses. After the divorce was finalized, she swore never to marry again. Two weeks later and still weak from a bout with the flu, she was introduced by a friend to the “charming” Bernard Kaplan who distributed one-stop records for juke boxes. They soon got engaged!
They moved on to Atlanta, Georgia where they were married in 1964. Jean worked as a cocktail waitress in two very high-class night clubs; The Americana first, and then Kitten's Korner (as Kitten Jean) in the penthouse (Top O’ the Korner). Next was their move to New Orleans, where Bernie ran the local office for Mercury Records from which records were distributed to local radio stations and other outlets.
Jean got involved in breeding and showing Siamese, Tonkinese and Burmese cats under the business name New Orleans Cattery. In a newspaper ad, she tried to use the descriptor "The only legal cat house in New Orleans", but it was turned down as too risqué. Jean was always pushing boundaries, a lifelong characteristic that endeared her to some and annoyed others. Oh, well! That was Jean. From this time to present, there have always been multiple cats in her homes, earning her the nickname “the cat lady”.
Jean ended up running Bernie's office functions after she discovered the existing two secretaries had been failing at their jobs. Jean insisted he fire them immediately for total malingering. Jean then took on their responsibilities. The corporate office sent auditors from Chicago to find out why Jean's overtime claims were so high. She had taught herself the jobs of both fired staff, including the teletype system for ordering records. Collections on past due accounts had been brought up to date by her firm handling of the delinquent clients. She answered every question posed by the auditors on how the various tasks should be completed, demonstrating she was, in fact, doing the work of two. The auditors were so impressed that they offered her a position in Chicago's main office. She had to decline, as Bernie was not included in the offer. He had allowed the two secretaries to malinger, after all...
Eventually, Jean and Bernie moved to Memphis, Tennessee for a time and then to Nashville. Bernie left the record business and became an entrepreneur trying venture after venture after venture (ad nauseam), and Jean eventually took a full-time position in accounts payable for Tennessee Tufting after temping at several companies.
Jean was deeply anchored to her early life through age 20 in England, and memories of her experiences constantly rose to the surface as interesting short stories she often recounted to others both about experiences in England and in America as an adult that had made deep impressions. Sometimes people heard the stories more than once at different occasions… She was told several times by different acquaintances that she should write a book. If the book had been written, it would have been a remarkably interesting collage of her life for its complexity and her unique path through it.
The Divine Love and Friendship part of the story:
Jean's most important in-this-world life role occurred while in Nashville, being the first leader of the local Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF) meditation group that met in her home during private time from work. And this is where she and I met (good reminiscent sigh…). I was 19 (with SRF monk aspirations later to be replaced with a new lifetime responsibility, Jean), and she 38. Her leadership of the meditation group was a key factor in the development of the lives of the devotees’ who attended weekly group meditations. Years went by with so many stories, lessons, inspirations, and what became a lifetime for me of Divine Love and Friendship from that first meeting. Jean, Bernie, and I eventually jelled into a family unit, with me living with them (my "room" was in the basement with the car, washer and dryer, and assorted basement stuff and critters), often being the buffer between them and protecting Jean from Bernie's explosive temper. He once lifted his hand in anger to her; she got her .38 police special, pointed it at him, and told him that if he ever laid a hand on her, she’d shoot him a new ‘one’ (expletive replaced)! She was never going to be a victim of physical abuse again. And so it was “only” mental abuse that was the outlet of his temper over the years that I had to mitigate. But he also had redeeming qualities and recent deep spiritual experiences related to SRF of his own that demonstrated why the three of us had been put into this unusual situation.
You’d have to read the book that has not been written, with all of the drama of ups and downs in Jean’s life in England and America, including Bernie's and Jean’s long marriage, with me as the "adopted" third member, to truly appreciate it all... Jean was adamant that she would see the marriage to the very end so as not have to reincarnate to finish it with him. She completed that mission without compromising her personal integrity and the fidelity to the marriage that we both respected.
We moved to Phoenix, Arizona in 1986, as my job by then was the dominating factor in where our household would reside. Bernie, given the opportunity to stay in Tennessee, decided to make the move with us and continue the marriage (and entrepreneurship). Jean served in various roles to support the SRF Phoenix Temple over the course of several years. She also did seamstress work from home, got involved in making and selling Southwest arts and crafts, and stamping for fun and profit. Many interesting experiences transpired over these years that are recounted in the book that has not been written.
Bernie passed abruptly in 1995 of lung cancer. Jean and I had been with him for two weeks in the VA Medical Center (beginning just a day after I started a new job) as he underwent diagnosis and radiation treatment. I thought everything was stable and decided to get back to my new job and would visit after work hours. After I got back to my office and was filling in my new boss, the nurses’ staff called me and said I needed to return, as there was a significant change in Bernie’s condition. As I was driving back to the VA Medical Center, he came to me in spirit, tearing through my eyes. I told him it was OK to pass, and I would take care of Jean; we would be OK; I noted the time on the car’s clock. He was gone by the time I got back to his hospital room. I asked a nurse at what time he had passed, and she confirmed it was the same time I had told him it was OK to go.
Jean and I were married in 1996 by her close friend and now late SRF minister Brother Dharmananda at the SRF Phoenix Temple. This ensured I could fulfill my promise of love and care for Jean to Bernie, and to embark on our own new life together. Bernie's ashes were later scattered in the Pacific by our dear friend Vernon (bless him!) in a beautiful ceremony and tribute; Bernie had always enjoyed ocean fishing!
Jean and I moved to Sun City Grand in Surprise, Arizona in 1999, into a newly built house, our first together where no one else had ever lived. We made it our own over the years and developed good friendships there, some of whom have passed since. We got involved in stained glass and fused glass for a few years and had our own workshop in the garage. We sold many items through our community’s stained-glass club outlet. Stamping continued as Jean’s hobby and for recompense. Jigsaw puzzles also became a favorite hobby for her.
Jean eventually lost all her dearest SRF monastic friends who had been direct disciples of Paramahansa Yogananda, founder of the SRF Church of all Religions, as they passed away in turn over the years. Each one was a great loss that left a tangible void in her heart. Once none of them remained on this earth, she expressed the thought of passing, as well, to be with them once again in the hereafter. These great souls were the deepest links to her own spiritual identity. What joy she had seeing them and sharing such Divine Friendships! She continued to meet other dear SRF monastic friends whenever possible, which helped sustain her. And some of those dear ones passed, with similar impact on her.
After I went into retirement in late 2012, in order to spend my full time with Jean, we bought a condo on the beach in Puerto Peñasco, Mexico where we passed much the next few years; it was the closest seaside available that could attempt to fulfill her longing to return to Bournemouth’s seaside to live. Jean was known there to her good friends and adopted family of workers at the condo complex, and those at a few of the local restaurants, as Juanita Margarita De Lobo (it rolled off her tongue like butter when she said it). More stories were entered during this time into the book that has not been written. We bought another house in Sun City Grand in 2016 once Jean’s declining health required being closer to her doctors, and later sold the condo that we were then renting out to vacationers to “simplify your life!” per Jean's sudden edict one day. And so, there it was, sold!
There is so much more to relate about my beloved Jean, but the book that has not been written is still in my heart.
Jean will be my one and only companion in this lifetime and was the ultimate definition of soul mate. One of our long-time SRF monastic friends once said to us, "You will likely be reborn as Siamese Twins!", as we were always arm-in-arm attending annual church convocations in Los Angeles over the 70's, 80's and 90's. She always wore beautiful Indian saris at such events and was a vision of supreme loveliness. But, my dearest one, let us not go that far when reincarnating!
My beloved, we will meet again some sunny day, as Vera Lynn sang in the 40's. To paraphrase, “I have told the folks that you know, that as I saw you go, you were singing this song”... (queue the music, "We'll Meet Again" with armed forces accompaniment by Vera Lynn). I played this song to her several times as she completed her exit from the body, understanding that hearing is the last sense to go.
Jean is survived by her husband Gregg. In lieu of flowers, Jean would invite you to raise a glass of your favorite beverage in fond farewell, and/or donate to a favorite charity. As “the cat lady”, Jean’s favorite was the 4 Paws Animal Shelter in Youngtown, Arizona which cares for cats that need rehabilitation and to be adopted into loving, caring homes. They have a re-sale thrift store that relies on donated household goods that helps fund their mission. Donations can also be made to Hospice of the Valley in Phoenix. They also have a re-sale thrift store (White Dove) dependent on donated goods that helps fund their vital hospice work.
Loving Annotation: Dame Vera Lynn, the WWII British “Forces’ Sweetheart” passed away on June 18, 2020, at the age of 103.
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