Jean Griffin Goossen passed away at her home on December 1 at the age of 96. Known for her kindness and grace, she died peacefully, surrounded by family.
Jean never wanted to be the center of attention, but she insisted on being in the middle of the action. She was an adventurer and a true humanitarian. No person in need crossed her path without receiving at least her attention, if not assistance of a more involved nature. She had many strong opinions about politics and culture, yet passed little judgment on people. She broke bread with people from many walks of life, traveled all over the world, and stayed close to friends from her travels until her death.
Jean was born in New York City April 23, 1921 to Robert Allen Griffin and Phyllis Hayes Griffin. Raised with her younger sister Nancy in California’s Carmel Valley, the sisters spent several years in school in Paris, where Jean acquired her love of French. She attended Stanford University, and in her graduating year was one of only three women to receive a BA in Chemistry. In 1946, she married the art critic Eugene Coons Goossen of Gloversville, New York. They had two children, Theodore (Ted) and Mary, both of whom live in Toronto. She divorced in 1972 and subsequently married Donald Ward, who predeceased her in 1985.
Though her first degree was in science, Jean’s deep interest in people led her to study cultural anthropology at Columbia University throughout her forties, receiving her Ph.D. in 1970 with a doctoral thesis titled, Kin to Each Other: Integration in Guadeloupe. For the next 20 years, she taught anthropology at Jersey City State College, and was awarded the honorary title of Professor Emeritus upon retirement.
Following her retirement, Jean devoted herself to two important institutions ministering to those in need: Riverside Church on the Upper West Side of New York City, where she lived for nearly 60 years, and the Community Counseling and Mediation (CCM) in Brooklyn. With the former she was a long-time organizer and volunteer in the food-drive, sitting for hours outside grocery stores, collecting donations. Also, CCM, in recognition of her contribution, is building a large and attractive facility, “Jean’s Place,” which will provide housing and other services for low-income and homeless seniors.
Jean resided in the same Upper West Side apartment for over a half-century, where she housed countless artists, students and friends of her children and grandchildren. Jean’s natural ability to gather a wide range of often loud and boisterous personalities around her led to frequent dinner parties with much music and laughter. She was particularly fond of vocal, brassy women like Nan Pendrell and Laura Konigsberg, two of her closest friends.
Jean remembered the lyrics to countless songs, and was always a central figure in the jam sessions, the debates, and the storytelling. She made all who knew her feel as if they shared a connection with her unlike any other. She will be deeply missed.
Besides her two children, Jean leaves behind five grandchildren – Carolyn and Jeananne Goossen and Benjamin, Jenny, and Jesse Scott — and six great-grandchildren — Ella, Bruno, Sofia, Isabel, Daphne, and Lydia.
I got to know Jean via my brother-and-law (her son), and enjoyed talking with her, appreciated her patiently listening, and seeing her joy.