Remembering Jeanne Kimball

Jeanne Kimball — the longtime Westport musician, music teacher and music lover who died at 96 on December 30 — was a much-loved woman.

Her obituary lists the dates and accomplishments of her life:

  • She moved here in 1953 with her husband Fred.
  • In the mid-’50s she founded the Westport Madrigal Singers and Unitarian Church choir.  She served on the board of the Connecticut Alliance for Music, and was very involved in their annual Young Artists Competition.
  • In 1998 she was honored with Westport’s Arts Heritage Award.

But facts are only one part of someone’s life.  Memories mean much more.

Joy Kimball Overstreet — one of Jeanne’s 3 daughters — sent these thoughts along:

Jeanne Kimball at 95.

“Mom adored Fred (and was adored by him) from the time they met at 17 at a Unitarian church camp, till the day he died 63 years later.  His return from work was the highlight of her day.  She changed into ‘something nice’ just for him.  While dinner (and we kids) waited, they retreated into the living room for cocktails together.”

After he retired, if he wanted to sail for the weekend she put aside her own plans, packed food, and “happily poked around the Sound with him on his tiny boat.”  They slept in sleeping bags alongside the centerboard.

She managed most of Fred’s care during 2 years of cancer treatments.  After he died in 1994 she took on more singing students, and kept up her garden.  She loved arranging fresh flowers and greens, and putting up fruits and vegetables.

Her students cherished their time with her.  Her vocal coaching style was direct.  For her, singing was communication.  She was a vocal coach practically to her last breath.  Two days before she sank into unconsciousness,  when her nephews sang her carols, she weakly waved her hand.

“Not ‘happy new YEAR,'” she whispered.  “It’s ‘happy NEW year.’  Emphasize what’s most important.”

“Her ambitions were modest,” Joy said.  “She was content to be a homemaker and ‘hobbyist’ musician.  Still, the upcoming concert had to be the best it could, and enough tickets needed to be sold to pay the director’s small salary.

“Now and then there would be talk of making the Madrigals professional, with concert tours and a recording contract, but she was perfectly happy staying local and amateur.”

Jeanne Kimball at 84, making flower arrangements for her granddaughter's wedding.

A few years ago, in failing health, she moved into an addition built onto her daughter Holly and son-in-law Barry Tashian’s home in Nashville.  (Both have enjoyed long and successful careers as professional musicians.)

Almost to the end, she chopped carrots and celery.  She did daily vocal warmups at the piano.  Family, neighbors, visitors, the dog — “whoever was around” — participated.

“She never let go of her manners, her sense of humor and her delight in the wonders of being alive,” Joy said.  “She always expressed interest in visitors’ lives and asked appropriate questions, even when the answers mystified her and were instantly forgotten.”

Despite a drastic decline in her thinking abilities, she remained “cheerful, grateful and happy to be wherever she was.”

And thousands of Westporters — touched by her music teaching, promotion or playing — remain grateful and happy to have had Jeanne Kimball in their lives.

(A memorial service will be held Sat., April 2 at Westport’s Unitarian Church.  In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions can be made to the Unitarian Church, 10 Lyons Plains Rd., Westport CT 06880, or the Unitarian Universalist Association, 25 Beacon St., Boston, MA 02108.  Condolences and remembrances can be emailed to Faith Lyons:

9 responses to “Remembering Jeanne Kimball

  1. such a beautiful life.

  2. That was a stunningly beautiful tribute.

  3. We old vets of the early days of the Westport Community Theatre, recall Jeanne and Fred fondly. In 1958, two years after we founded WCT, we produced our first musical, “Guys & Dolls”. Jeanne lent her beautiful voice to the role of Sgt. Sarah Brown of the Salvation Army. Fred helped build sets and work back stage. Jeanne was as delightful as she was talented. A huge lose for her friends, students and the entire community.

  4. Jeanne helped to shape my life more than anyone. She was a long-time family friend- my parents met while singing with the Westport Madrigals, under her direction. She was my very first voice teacher, and introduced me to music that I had never expected to enjoy. Singing was always fun with her. She helped me find my love and direction in life, and supported me even after I left Westport. It is difficult to find the words to express what she meant to me. She was my mentor.

  5. Dan, this is just wonderful. Thank you so much for giving her the tribute she deserved.

  6. Faith Kimball Lyons

    This is so fitting for mother – thanks for the retelling of some of the highlights of her life. The response I have received from old students, colleagues, and friends has been amazing. I don’t think I(we) ever realized how much she meant to so many people besides her family.


  7. millette Alexander

    Jeanne was one of the most gracious, loving, wholesome and giving people I have ever known and I am so saddened by the news of her passing. On several occasions I had the pleasure of working with her, rehearsing with and accompanying some of her students for their recitals. Her perceptive and helpful comments were given with such artful skill that the student could easily understand and incorporate them. Her gentle, warm smile brightened any day and I treasure the times we spent in her kitchen, usually with a bouquet of gorgeous flowers on the table and pouring a delicious cup of tea. I frequently pass her newly expanded house in Westport and miss the days when we enjoyed so much special time together. Jeanne was a beautiful soul I am grateful to have been able to call friend.

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  9. I only met Jeanne after she moved to Nashville to live with Holly and Barry, and I miss her joyful reaction to every new day and experience, her elegant beauty, and singing with her in the Unitarian choir.