The EAC community mourns Jean Wilhelm, who passed away peacefully March 27, 2022. “We have lost a strong, clear, wise voice, and guide,” wrote Cathy Adelman, who served alongside Jean on the EAC Board. We present here a collection of photographs and memories submitted by those who loved Jean, and invite community members to submit additional remembrances. Also, we are fortunate to have some wonderful audio recordings capturing Jean’s spirit, most recently an episode of Moose Island Mischief, the EAC podcast. An excerpt from this interview, paired with photos shared this week, is presented below. In addition, interviews with Jean were included as part of a four-part podcast, Setting the Stage, created in 2019 by Quinn Rose. More information and a link to the podcasts may be found here; Jean is included in episodes three and four.
Do you have a story about Jean that you’d like to share?
Please send your remembrance or photo to be added below.
Remembrances will continue to be added as long as they are submitted.
“My Aunt Jean Wilhelm died Sunday, after 95 glorious years on the planet.
Missing her already, because Jean saw me in a multi-generational family way that cannot be replicated. Often we talked about my dad Warren, her brother, and the adventurous spirit he was before wartime PTSD and alcohol washed much of that away. I loved her for that, as well as for many other things.
So much I learned from Jean, about fulfilling one’s creative destiny. About plunging forward. When she was young she drove across the country in a Model A Ford, which she rebuilt herself.
She worked her way into theater by showing up, and refusing to quit.
This led her to become a tenured theater professor at the University of Sydney, and then again at Goucher College.
Lots of adventures with Jean, including bringing her sloop Katharsis up from Annapolis, Maryland, where Jean had rebuilt her, to Cape May, New Jersey.
In later years Jean moved to Eastport, Maine, the easternmost city in the U.S. Eastport became a pilgrimage destination for my wife Ellen and me for many years, a chapter now closed.
Jean was always animated, usually cheerful, fierce in her progressive politics. Always she rejoiced at living in Eastport, and toward the end of her life she constantly appreciated the kindness of her caregivers, and the kindness of the people who cooked meals for her. It wasn’t lost on us, that they were attracted to her by how much kind attention she gave to them.
Jean died at peace, in her sleep. She was feisty, and full of gratitude, until the end. She always signed her emails “Onward.”
I’ll miss her.
“So sad to learn of the passing of this great spirit. It was a privilege to know her—the result, at least in part, of a bit of serendipitous good fortune. We’ve all heard Jean tell how, driving up the Maine coast looking for a home for her sailboat, she happened to turn up Dana Street and spotted a sign, ‘Eastport Arts Center.’ When she’d climbed the stairs and found a theater, she cried, ‘This is the place!’
“Next thing any of us knew, she’d rolled up her sleeves and begun producing and directing a series of marvelous plays. Embracing the whole Arts Center idea, she put herself at the center of the vision and labor to develop the Center’s current home on Washington Street.“—Jon Bragdon
“The scene is memory and is therefore nonrealistic. Memory takes a lot of poetic license. It omits some details; others are exaggerated, according to the emotional value of the articles it touches, for memory is seated predominantly in the heart.” ― Tennessee Williams, The Glass Menagerie
“Jean cast me in my first Stage East play, Dancing At Lughnasa, as well as the most recent, The Glass Menagerie. Jean had a magical touch, from her years of experience and thorough mastery of the art of directing. She elicited exactly what she wanted from her actors with only a very few, if any, notes. Working for Jean, being friends with Jean, traveling to New York with Jean, were part of the privilege of loving her. I know I am supposed to say, ‘She had a good, long life, and I am glad she got to go out on her own terms,’ and yes, that is true. But another truth is that Jean’s death has left an irreparable hole in my heart.”—Ann Cornelison
“I first met Jean at a galley opening, and our friendship was immediate. We shared many of the same views and enjoyed each other’s company immensely. I got into the habit of calling on her at least once a week, always accompanied by our dog Charlie, whom she adored and plied with ‘bickies’ from his spot nestled next to her on the sofa. (I used to joke with Ann that sometimes I wondered if Charlie was Jean’s favorite visitor while I was merely his escort.)
We were bereft when Jean decided that the practical thing to do was to move out of state to a retirement home situation. We needn’t have worried. On a brief visit to Eastport, she came to an EAC event where she told us that she’d love to attend services the next morning at the Unitarian Meetinghouse where she had been a faithful member, but only if we brought Charlie. We did, and she did, and Charlie nestled next to her on the pew while she plied him with peanuts. The next day she started looking for houses. We still give that dog credit for bringing our Jean back home.
Though she did not suffer fools gladly, Jean was a pure joy to know and spend time with, and was perhaps the most upbeat, optimistic person I have ever met. I loved her dearly. Here’s to Jean: ONWARD!“—David Gholson
“Here’s a photo of Jean and Joyce at Jean’s birthday at our house, I think maybe 2016. She’s reading a good fortune that was with the cake. I love the photo because it shows the two women I think most responsible for galvanizing and nurturing community arts of all types and shepherding the EAC into its own building.”—Lora Whelan
“The memories are what will get us all through this loss. There are so many, including Christmas dinner wearing crowns and heartily laughing, bopping around Middlebury with her on visits when she ‘ran away’ as she put it, birthday lunches and many more. Two special ones were when I invited her for dinner when cousin Rex was here so they could relive memories of time with Sir Tyrone Guthrie. They were so engrossed sipping their single malt and reminiscing that Rex’s wife and I could have gone downtown for dinner for hours and they wouldn’t have missed us.
The original memory with Jean was responding to a request for people to help build sets for Riders to the Sea, requiring hundreds of papier mâché balls to become stones for the massive fireplace. She wasn’t deterred by my negative responses to her inquiries as to my painting skills or set building experience, and I signed on instantly when she felt compelled to warn me that ‘she liked to play opera recordings when working.’ ‘Where do I sign up?’ asked I, and it was the beginning of a long friendship which I shall always cherish.”—Marged Higginson