Jean Davis Bigelow

1925 ∼ 2017

Jean Davis Bigelow

Jean Davis Bigelow of Woods Hole, MA died at age 92 on Monday, November 27, 2017 following a brief illness.

Jean was the daughter of Herbert L. Davis and Mabel F. (Geehan) Davis, and grew up in Walpole, MA.    As a young child, she was home schooled and studied piano with her mother.  She graduated from Walpole High School in 1943, and Radcliffe College, where she majored in Psychology, in 1947.  Jean met her husband, the late Robert (“Bob”) Otis Bigelow, while she was at Radcliffe on a blind date jointly hosted by a sorority at Radcliffe and a fraternity at MIT.

Jean and Bob were married on May 8, 1948 and lived for many years in Hingham, MA.  During this time, Jean was involved in several community organizations, including a local music conservatory and an amateur community theatre.  Jean continued her passion for piano both through teaching and performances.  In 1968, Jean and her family moved to Southborough, MA, where she became actively involved in town-affairs initially as secretary and then as President of Planning Board.

In the early 1970’s, Jean and her friends Patricia Capone and Inga Tufts founded the Southborough’s first newspaper, the Southborough Villager, with Jean serving as the Founding Editor.  The Villager was an instant success and quickly became an integral part of the local community.  The Villager was subsequently sold, and is still published as the Northborough-Southborough Villager (also available online through Wicked Local news).

Jean and Bob’s 66-year marriage is perhaps best remembered by their summers, and eventual retirement, in Woods Hole, MA.  Jean took up sailing and racing and was active in the Woods Hole Yacht Club, serving as its Treasurer for several years.  Jean, variously remembered as “Mrs. B” or “Jeannie”, had many close friends over the years.  She maintained a welcoming household where friends regularly dropped by for a visit, dinner and lively conversation.  In later years, Jean was active in the League of Women’s Voters and the Woods Hole Historical Museum.

Jean is predeceased by her husband Robert Otis Bigelow and her daughter Margaret (“Peggy”) Bigelow.  She is survived by her son John Payne Bigelow and his wife Helen Vanek-Bigelow, of Langhorne PA, and her daughter Carol Bigelow and her husband Lawrence Mark Schwartz, of Pelham MA.  Jean is also survived by four grandchildren – Nathaniel Bigelow Jacks of Brooklyn NY, Benjamin Bigelow Jacks of Brooklyn NY, Dara Vanek of Lititz PA, and William Bigelow Schwartz of Hadley, MA.

Funeral services were held at the Episcopal Church of the Messiah, 22 Church Street, Woods Hole, MA on Friday December 1, 2017.   In lieu of flowers, gifts can be made in Jean’s memory to My Life My Choice, 989 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, MA 02215 or on line at

Remembrance of Jean Bigelow

John Bigelow

Friday, December 1, 2017

The Church of the Messiah

Well, here we are.  The last two times I was in this church were to say goodbye to Peggy and to say goodbye to Bobby.  So, as much as I love you all, I hope you will understand why I am tempted say, “We have to stop meeting like this.”

But, of course, I don’t really mean that.  Woods Hole has been the home for this family, and this is where we turn when we are forced to confront the reality of mortality.  And, it would feel wrong to go anyplace else to remember and celebrate the story of my Mother’s life.  So, here we are, and Jean’s life is the story to which I want to try to do justice today.

The story of my Mother’s life is a story of quiet strength, a gentle loving heart, and an inquisitive active mind.  It is the story of a woman who without ever becoming a “control freak” quietly and unobtrusively was the master of her own destiny.  Strength is not unusual in my family, but those of you who know us for the noisy crew we are will realize that quiet strength was unusual.  It was Jean’s place in the beautiful complementarity that was her relationship with Bobby, and it was her gift to Carol.

Jean was a person whose life frequently elicited the reaction, “Gee, I didn’t know she did that!”

Her early childhood demanded strength.  The loving, friendly, funny woman whose life we celebrate today grew up with two alcoholic parents.  That is, to say the least, a set of challenging circumstances.  And while I would be loath to lay on the shoulders of children the responsibility for countering the effect of their parents’ challenges, I cannot help observing that Jean emerged from that experience, the remarkable woman we all knew and love.  That speaks of strength to me, and I celebrate that strength unabashedly and with gratitude.

After being home-schooled as a girl she went on to the local high school in Walpole, and won her way into Radcliffe College.  It’s part of a little institution in Cambridge that some of you may have heard of.  In my family that institution is best known for its proximity to MIT, because that’s where she and Bobby met.

After Bobby came into her life, she came here to Woods Hole.  You all have known and loved her for so long that she may feel like a fixture of the place to you, and so she became.  But, there was a time when it was all new to her.  A community organized around sailing and science was no part of her experience.  And, the fact that we have to remind ourselves of how strange that must have been to her is a testimony to her powers of adaptation.

Of course, she also had to adapt to my rather formidable Grandmother.  How many of us, early in our marriages would like to spend three months of the year living with our mothers-in-law without the mediating presence of our spouse five days out of every seven?  How did she handle it?  With good grace, patience and love; that’s how.  And, with her wonderful sense of humor.  My grandmother, Caroline, was a lifelong anglophile and had no use for Roosevelt.  That wasn’t because she was particularly political, which she wasn’t, but because during the 30s Roosevelt sent Joe Kennedy to be, as Caroline would put it, “The Ambassador to the Court of St. James.”  She never forgave Roosevelt for that, which she regarded as a calculated insult to the British Monarch.  Flash forward to 1960.  On the mantelpiece in our house in Woods Hole the central place of honor was occupied by three little mugs mail ordered from Dalton’s in London.  They commemorated the coronations of Edward VIII, George VI, and Elizabeth II.  One day something new appeared.  There between George VI and Elizabeth II – fresh from the souvenir counter in the Woods Hole Drug Store – was a new mug with the smiling face of President John F. Kennedy.  Of course, the Kennedy mug was “accidentally” smashed one afternoon when Caroline was dusting while the rest of us were out sailing, but Jean had made her point.

Superficially her life with Bobby during the 50s and 60s was that of a post-war house-wife and baby-boom era mother.  Superficially, but not really!  While Jean was at all times, a loving, attentive, compassionate, inspiring parent, she did not limit her life to the boundaries of that role.  First, there was the music.  Jean grew up in a very musical family.  Her mother was the local piano teacher, and her house contained about four pianos.  My uncle and my mother were fluent in piano from a very early age, and while Peggy and Carol and I were growing up our mother continued to work hard at her music.  Practice was three hours a day – every day - without fail.  And I will admit to you, I’m not fond of Bela Bartok in concert.  He’s too modern for my reactionary tastes.  But, Bartok in concert is nothing compared to Bartok during practice while the pianist is learning the piece.  But, Jean was undaunted, and she persisted.

It wasn’t just music.  Sometime in the late 50s or early 60s she decided to learn Fortran programming.  She acquired a stack of books and a giant “coding pad” about two or three feet wide with eighty columns to represent the way in which the computer cards used during that time would be punched.  The thing that was so remarkable about this endeavor is that she had no access to a computer!  The programs she laboriously wrote out on her coding forms would never get transferred to cards and would never get run.  But she knew that computers were going to be important in the future, and she wanted to understand what they were about.  This was how she set about finding out.

The other thing she set out to learn was Russian.  At about the same time she was filling out coding forms, she was also poring over Russian vocabulary books and listening to mechanical sounding voices coming from the record player slowly reading Russian.

I’m pretty sure I was the only kid in Mrs. Linscott’s first grade class at South School in Hingham whose Mom had Fortran coding forms and Russian language flash cards in the living room.

When we moved to Southborough, there was yet another change.  What was she going to do?  Bobby had his work at the new office in Westboro.  Peggy and Carol and I had new schools to go to.  What was Jean going to do?  The answer quickly became clear.  While, the music continued (of course), she threw herself into the life of her new community.  Before long, she was the Secretary of the Southborough Planning Board.  What happened next was like something out of a movie.  She learned the ins and outs of local zoning, and abandoning her role as its secretary, she ran for election, and she won!  She became the President of the Planning Board.  The local politicians learned what we could have told them: Don’t underestimate Jean.

Southborough did not have a newspaper when we moved to town.  People talked about that, and agreed it was “too bad.”  But, Southborough was too small and too far away from Boston or Worcester for the Boston Globe or the Worcester Telegram to follow local events in our town, and the local newspapers in nearby Marlboro and Framingham just weren’t interested.  So, with no journalism experience, Jean and her partners Pat Capone and Inga Tufts started a brand new bi-weekly newspaper from scratch.  The Southborough Villager was born.  In my family we remember the nights when the three of them stayed up to the small hours of the morning laying out the next issue of the Villager in their office – which was actually one of the upstairs bedrooms in our house in Southboro.  The Villager became a Southboro institution.  Everybody in town read it, and when the time came for Bobby and Jeannie to retire and move to Falmouth they sold it to a national Newspaper publishing company.  You can still read it and subscribe to it today, but I think it’s nowhere near as good as it was back in the day when Jean and Pat and Inga pasted together their layout while my sisters and I slept just down the hall.

Jean’s story illustrates her strength through her willingness – even determination - to take on unexpected roles and it illustrates her mental appetite for meaningful challenging work.  While she never struck anybody as a radical person, she would not be contained by anybody’s expectations of what she ought to do.  Quiet strength does that.

As much as I love this part of Jean’s story, it is only a part – and not the most important part.  Life with Jean was full of moments when she saw something that those she loved needed, and when she did, she made it happen.  She generally did it without drama, but she did make it happen.  Some of the examples I can think of include the time when little Johnny didn’t want to memorize his “times tables,” but she patiently, relentlessly, made sure he did, or when a slightly older version of Johnny looked like he might fall behind in school because of his lousy penmanship.  Jean made sure he was enrolled in summer school typing in spite of Johnny’s objections.  And, when Peggy struggled during her first year at college, Jean was the first to realize something was amiss, to visit her, to help her understand that this was not the right time for college, and to bring her home.  Her judgment was vindicated years later when the time was right and Peggy returned to school and graduated Phi Beta Kappa and sigma cum laude.

Jean knew what the people she loved needed, and she got it for them.  Sometime after Helen gave birth to our daughter, Dara, I brought Dara to Woods Hole for the first time.  We weren’t exactly a conventional family, since I was still marred to my first wife when Dara was born, and I didn’t know what to expect.  Dara and I arrived late one Friday night, and I put her to bed after a long drive from Philadelphia.  The next morning when I woke up, my Mother had Dara up and fed and dressed and bundled into her stroller.  “What are you doing?” I asked.  Without skipping a beat – and without pausing to ask me what I thought about it, Jean looked me squarely in the eye and said, “I’m taking my granddaughter, and we’re going calling.”  And with that, she was out the door and on her way.  Some of you in this church probably met Dara that Saturday morning.

Jeannie and Bobby grew old together, and they chose this place to do it.  Now came another transition to make – from summer-people to year-round residents.  The Villager was sold, and Jean embraced becoming a full member of this community.  Soon the Woods Hole Historical Museum was the beneficiary of Jean’s intellect, drive, and good nature. 

As time passed their health gradually deteriorated and Jean, in her characteristically quiet but nonetheless determined fashion, cared for them both – gently rationing Bobby’s daiquiris and cheese and crackers and ensuring a diet rich in fiber.  When the time came for them to leave the house and take up residence in Woodbriar – where there was a staff, after all – and a good one – to look after them, she still saw it as her job to care for Bobby, even to the point of insisting on joining him in the “memory impaired” unit when his condition necessitated it, but hers did not.  She was not going to be separated from him; she was going to go on caring for him, and the staff at Woodbriar just had to accept that fact.

So today, I stand here humbled and grateful.  My Mother nurtured me with wisdom, love, humor, and quiet strength.  I am grateful beyond my capacity to put into words and humbled by the prospect of trying to be worthy of her.  Jeannie – Mom – I love you.

Remembrance of Jean Bigelow

Carol Bigelow

Friday, December 1, 2017

The Church of the Messiah

“Oh”, she said.  “I bet I can hit that!”

It was a cardboard box that had tumbled onto Route 3.  Jean was driving.  We were en route from Hingham to Woods Hole.   Jean thought it was hilarious.  Bob let loose with a string of expletives.  One unpacked car, one re-packed car, one spare tire later, all was well again …. save the loss of some poor soul’s perfectly good television set.  And for those of us scrunched in the back or, if we were lucky, the “way back”, we now had a funny story to tell.  We couldn’t wait to tell our friends.

And there were others.   An April Fool’s day wiggle and waggle in the garage to park the car at 90 degrees, a Christmas present boat roller dressed and coiffed and ready for burlesque, the unexpected call from Southborough Autobody to let her know that, really, a new Opel Kadette wasn’t meant to be driven through freshly poured concrete, Jean gave us a treasure trove of stories to boast.

But if there is one remembrance we all have of Jean, it is her poems.   Birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, graduations … she honored them all with her pen. 

Jean loved you dearly … and made it all fun … from the first sail on the Bad News, her first picnic at Tarpaulin …  to the many sails on the Blue Jean, to nine hole ladies and to senior seniors, to New Years in abundance …. she captured a special generation of Woods Hole … and weaved it into a rich fabric of verse

… which I promise.  I will do my best to preserve and share.

In the meantime, I know Jean would have loved to be remembered to three among her many best friends:



When the sunset moves beyond the rise
Of Penzance Point, a gleam in Dottie’s eyes
Announces that the weather and the time is now
The ladies don their sneaks and board the coral scow

While faithful John and Pete rush up to Nobska light

Kailani, bound for God knows where, is out of sight.

And if All Saints Day should pass without her yearly brawl

Witches, bats and noisy ghost would sadly fall

Pork chops, popcorn, costumes weird are de rigeur

Who would not agree, there ain’t no flies on her?

She keeps a list of dumb predictions

Posted by guests whose strong convictions

Have been boosted by a sip or two
of fine New Hampshire tax-free brew


The tradition I like the best of all
A grand event that happens every Fall
To move Kailani home for winter fare

Engages talents both diverse and rare






Our Olive is indeed a sturdy sort

The type who’s always ready to cavort

In oilskins, history class or any sport,

Or with those ancient Wellesley babes from other towns,

Concealing beauty rare ‘neath academic gowns

The talents we know in Olive B

Continue to amaze us as all you see.

She’s scheming now for global unity,

But hold your hats and listen close to me.

Her next endeavor might produce a shock

With folks who live around some other block.

For should she deftly drop her sailing pants –

Oh hold your tongues you sainted aunts -

It’s not the classic, hard core naughty tease

It’s Olive’s lecture on the briney seas.



Now is the moment

To nudge the musty muse

And focus on the foibles

Of our fine old friends

Zipping around the Cape Cod town

To catch a bug

Ignite the centrifuge

Build a great big ship for fun,

Or, for blood, race a little one,

Rip off a tennis or a golf

Or maybe coach a hockey

Make a kindly call

On one of several rare old ladies

And toddle home to pen a perfect note,

My God, how do you do it?


Monday was crisp and sparkly, sunny and clear.  We’d stopped by Woodbriar to gather Jean’s things.   Edith was at the front desk.   “Oh ….. your Mum” she said ….  as she held me tight. “Your mum had a special love for your Dad, they were such a sweet couple.  She used to drive him everywhere in her car when they first moved here ….  and then later ….  it was always your Mum pushing his wheelchair …. We’re going to miss her”.   I hugged Edith back.

Oh dear.  It’s hard to say good-bye to you, Mom.   We will cry, for sure.  But it is right and it is time.

But then we will take comfort that you are again with Bob and Peg, two bright spirits whom you’ve so sorely missed.   As have we all.  Happy sailing to you three!   And stargazing!  And music!  And dancing!   And yes.  And rolling about in the fairest of winds. 

And when tomorrow’s sun rises and the next day’s sun rises … and the next day’s sun rises….. we will rise, too …. and we will celebrate and give thanksgiving for the gift that was you.   


We will love as you have loved


Without condition.

With grace and with humor

We will love with humility

And an extended hand to the vulnerable

For, truly, they are the bravest amongst us

And our greatest hope.

We will love as you have loved.


I love you, Mom

Rest in peace


In lieu of flowers, gifts can be made in Jean’s memory to My Life My Choice, 989 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, MA 02215 or on line at

Jean Davis Bigelow

1925 ∼ 2017

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