These things are not always written in advance of their need – but certainly not in anticipation. I am writing this on a cold January day, after speaking at some length with Jeanne, she in her hospital bed, I at home. In this little essay, we use the present to remember the past so that one may truly reflect upon the person while she is still amongst us, not yet a memory. It
Forever in my memory will be the sight of her short, sturdy figure, always well-dressed and carefully coifed with simple elegance, noisily dragging a chair the width of the West Hollywood Park Auditorium to be closer to the guest speaker’s rostrum as well as to enhance her ability to hear the proceedings of the City Council meeting. For 25 years that action was met with John Heilman’s graceful pauses and soft admonishments, yet always a part of the bi-monthly rites After all, Jeanne was the conscience of our city, the reminder of our better selves, the memory bank of political promises, the stern finger of disapproval, the strong, clear voice of good direction. While she could be stern, she was also affectionate and approachable. Auntie to us all.
She was a lesson in civic responsibility, an example for all citizens. She never wavered from her true sense of what was right, which excesses of political fervor needed curbing and how to bring the perpetrators to heel. As an proponent of progressive causes, she was a co-founder of the West Hollywood Democratic Club and a tireless advocate of political ethics. Her disdain for the city’s desire for more establishments providing liquor made her sound like Carrie Nation – but she was more like Mother Jones in actuality.
I cannot banish the comparison which has often come to mind of Jeanne and the Steadfast Tin Soldier of Hans Anderson’s tale. Like that figure, Jeanne was just a bit less physically than most of us, yet in her capacity as a most dedicated citizen, she was taller than any of us. Her commitment to her ideals was as unselfish, unassailable and as moving as the Tin Soldier’s love for the Paper Ballerina – but, of course, far more real. Steadfast, indeed! She shamed us with her sincerity and purpose while she inspired us to be true to our better nature. In these things as well she was unique.
On the day I spoke with her she would not tell me why she had been taken to the hospital so early the day before. Her single concern was to speak to several people to assist her in getting her affairs in order. When I told her that I had just spoken with two of her friends who would see her later in the day, she said with a sharp laugh “they’d better hurry!” The only other information I got from her was that her precious address book, “full of many unlisted numbers, all my friends – took me years to put it together~! ”, had somehow disappeared from the Emergency Room. A great loss, she assured me, but – “oh well” was her final word on the subject. With her voice as strident and firm as ever, it was difficult to believe her given age and the possibility of an incapacitating illness. Jeanne and I had met when we were both on County Supervisor Ed Edelman’s Citizen Advisory Board. I was in awe as she wielded her well-honed weapon of ethical concern at the timid murmurs of others who did not think so deeply. An unconquerable spirit.
When you go to Council meetings and wish to deliver comments to the Council, I wish you would pause just a second to recall Jeanne Dobrin as she used her righteous voice to say the things many of us thought but were too timid to utter.
Finally, just a moment of quiet to visualize Jeanne Dobrin dragging her chair across the plain of her new venue to be closer to the dais where she will not have to raise her voice to be heard.
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