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:
“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.”
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.)