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One Person Can Make a Difference

This is a photo of Jean Paton’s cramped work space in Harrison, Arkansas, where she and her trusty typewriter communicated around the world with the adoption triad.

Jean Paton, Gardener

Jean Paton delighted in growing vegetables and flowers, which she took up in earnest for the first time in Ojai, California in the late-1950s.  Jean spent hours in her garden, cultivating sweet peas, Swiss chard, beets, lettuce, and broccoli, as well carnations and roses.  Such activities would remain a life-long pursuit.  This photo is unidentified but it is probably taken in the backyard of Jean’s home in Harrison, Arkansas, during the summer.  It looks as if Jean is inspecting the tomato patch.

Jean Paton interviewed by E. Wayne Carp in Harrison AR, 1998

In June 1998, I spent a week interviewing Jean in her home in Harrison, AR.  I had just published my book, Family Matters: Secrecy and Openness in the History of Adoption, and thought I knew something about the adoption reform movement.  But after talking with Jean, I realized that I would have to rethink and rewrite much of that history because I had missed how important she had been to its creation and growth.  During that week, we hit it off and had quite a meeting of the minds.  At age 90, Jean’s mind was sharp as a tack and her memory was excellent.  She had a great sense of humor but also was extremely serious when it came to issues that mattered to her.  She got angry at hearing the name of Bill Pierce and teared up when talking about her mother.  I felt honored that she chose me to write her biography, and fortunate that she left me with the historian’s gold mine of her papers. As you can see, I am still at it.

Jean Paton at work in Harrison, AR

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June and Jean at home in Cedaredge, CO

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A rare photo of June Schwantes (lower left) and Jean Paton together at home together.  There is no identification on the back of the photo.

June Schwantes at home in Harrison, AR

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This is a photo of June Schwantes, who was Jean’s life companion for some 40-odd years.  Jean met June in Hasty, Arkansas, which was June’s hometown.  They lived together for a year in 1965 before moving to Memphis, and then eventually to Cedaredge, Colorado.  June was a evangelical Christian, a RN, who became Director of Nursing at the Medical School of the University of Tennessee.  She continued her nursing career for the next two decades before retiring in 1985.  When I interviewed June in Harrison, Arkansas, last May, she got around slowly with a walker but was articulate, devote, cogent, with a good sense of humor.  June had remarkable recall of events of the past, but like most elderly people had difficulty remembering things that happened yesterday.

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