Jean Margaret Matthews had a radiant smile, and a laugh that rang out like a bell. That joyful bell ceased to ring on Dec. 16, 2015. She died at her home near Hamilton, surrounded by family.
Jean was born May 26, 1957, to Byron Stewart Matthews and Katryna Staunton Matthews, joining siblings JoAnn, Karen, and Dan in Lombard, IL. The family was further enlarged and enriched by a series of foster children, including Tim, whom they formally adopted.
They moved to Tulsa in 1966, where her home was filled with music, activity, and hastily-prepared food. Jean graduated from Central High School, then studied at Oklahoma State University, where she espied her future spouse, Russ Lawrence. Their attraction was immediate and mutual, and remained so for nearly 40 years.
They married on April Fools’ Day, 1978, and moved to Missoula in a sputtering VW bus. Jean completed her BA in Psychology at UM in 1980. From 1978-81, she joined Russ at his summer job in Garnet ghost town, thriving there without electricity, running water, or indoor plumbing. She finagled a job as relief fire lookout, then spent two summers flying as an aerial fire spotter for the State of Montana.
Jean earned her BS in Nursing from MSU, then took the first job she was offered within the KUFM listening area (her sole criterion), moving to Hamilton in 1985. She worked nights, earning praise from patients for her kind manner and sympathetic ear.
In 1986, she and Russ pooled their meager savings and negligible business experience to buy Chapter One Book Store. They worked side by side to build the bookstore into a community resource. Jean became an advocate for adult literacy, helping to create the Literacy Bitterroot program, serving as its president, and working with adult clients.
After 23 years helming the book store, in 2009 she and Russ fulfilled a lifelong dream and joined the U.S. Peace Corps, serving in Chivay, high in the Peruvian sierra, winning the affection of a whole new community. She totally rocked the traditional costume of the region, and danced the Wititi, the “dance of love,” like nobody was watching, even though they all were. On returning from their service, she and Russ launched Encounter Peru, together guiding two trips back to their adopted tierra, to share its rich culture and to visit their friends.
Since 2012, she worked for the Ravalli County Public Health department as a Public Health Nurse, as always helping others.
Music was one of her great joys, and she indulged her gifts playing in various groups, including the Bitterroot Community Band and the Light and Variable Winds, or simply playing with a friend for the pleasure of it. She capped her career playing flute and pennywhistle with The Crested Hens, performing Celtic music with heart and élan. She also created the “Tuesday at 12” series of free summer concerts in Hamilton, which has endured for 26 seasons.
A lifelong thespian, she sang (!), acted, directed, worked backstage or played in the pit band, primarily with the Hamilton Players, where she literally helped build the stage.
Traveling to remote destinations with Russ intrigued and delighted her, from Tierra del Fuego to the Outer Hebrides, to Kilimanjaro, where she donned a tiara at the summit.
She loved being among children, engaging them with silliness and song whether in the bookstore, a remote village in Peru, or in the Hamilton schools. She also shared her life with a distinguished succession of cats, one notable dog, and a rare assortment of other creatures. The skunk was not her idea.
She reveled in whimsy and high-minded silliness, whether hiking in formal dress to an alpine lake to serve “High Tea,” or instigating road trips with her friends; that was pure Jean. She loved – really loved – riding her bicycle, was an avid hiker and cross-country skier, and her culinary skills won ribbons at the Ravalli County Fair. If the Mudflaps were playing, she and Russ were dancing.
Jean was defined by the qualities that she most sought in others: smart, funny, and kind.
Jean is survived by her siblings JoAnn Carpenter (Ada, OK); Karen Martin (Doug), Los Angeles; and Dan Matthews (Laurel), White Heath IL; a flock of nieces and nephews; and her husband, Russ.
Jean suggested memorials to the local charity of your choice, or to Tuesday at Twelve, c/o First Security Bank, PO Box 393, Hamilton MT 59840. A celebration of Jean’s life will take place in the spring; meanwhile, please make or enjoy some music whilst remembering her.