Jean Elizabeth Haire Forster Hanchett

Obituary for Jean Elizabeth Haire Forster Hanchett

May 13, 1923 - October 18, 2016
Castro Valley | Age 93

Loved and Respected


Jean Elizabeth Haire Forster Hanchett
May 13, 1923 – October 18, 2016

Jean Forster Hanchett was a maverick – a free-thinker who lived her life as she chose. The daughter of an Anglican clergyman she left the church at age fourteen preferring the preparation of the weekly pot roast instead of church service – the penance imposed by her loving and tolerant parents. Surrounded by a family of smokers, she prided herself in rejecting the 'filthy habit' at a young age, and on being a vegetarian for much of her life.

Graduating from Evanston Township High School at the top of her class, Jean attended Swarthmore College majoring in Political Science. She made lifelong friends there who inspired a dedication to social justice and the pacifism of the Quaker community. In 1945 she married a boy from back home, William Hanchett, who had just completed his World War II service as a pilot in the Army Air Force. During that period, Jean proudly worked for the War Labor Board – an organization created by FDR for the purpose of promoting gender and racial equality in employment.

Accompanying Bill to Berkeley where he completed his PhD in History, Jean worked for the Berkeley Planning Commission – sixty years later she still could navigate her way through Berkeley neighborhoods with confidence. Shortly afterwards, she and Bill moved to Larkspur, California where they rented an ark – a house on stilts in the marshes off Corte Madera Creek. She often said this was the happiest period of her life – with a toddler, Tom, and close friends who lived along the boardwalk. The boardwalk was a haven for artists involved in the San Francisco Beat scene of the 1950s including the under-appreciated abstract expressionist, John Lynch. Jean and her family continued to visit the boardwalk years after they had moved away.

Ultimately settling in San Diego where Bill was employed as a professor at SDSU, Jean, now the mother of two young children, took on the task of completing a Master's in Political Science from SDSU. In 1964, at the height of the Cold War, she travelled with an academic group to the Soviet Union. Jean was involved in local Democratic politics and was close friends with academics from SDSU and UCSD where she taught several extension classes including one where Cesar Chavez spoke and the Teatro Campesino performed. She also taught Political Science at Mesa College and San Diego City College. She and Bill divorced in 1968.

In the early 1970s, Jean attended law school in San Diego. She was the only woman in her class completing her JD in 1976. She later worked as a paralegal for a local San Diego law firm where she excelled in legal research according to her employer.

Jean received two Fulbright Awards, one to study the newly formed Liberal Democrats in London where she interviewed members of Parliament and created a new network of politically involved British friends. She also spent a summer in Egypt on another Fulbright.

Not just a woman of intellect, Jean was extremely generous, and had profound compassion for all creatures – animals, children and plants especially. Later in life, she was able to develop her artistic talent producing exceptional pastels and had an uncanny ability to recite dozens of poems perfectly and always perfectly suited to the occasion at hand.

Jean and her companion of many years, Luther Whitten, moved to Castro Valley to be closer to her children and grandchildren in the nineties and, true to form, she was active there in trying to incorporate Castro Valley as a city.

Healthy to the very end, climbing several stairs to her apartment every day, with the blood work of fifty year old according to her physician, Jean passed away on October 18, 2016. She is survived by three grandchildren, Ian and Colin Campbell, and Angela Hanchett, her daughter, Emily (Jay), and son, Thomas (Connie and her daughter Vanessa) as well as nieces and nephews and several great nieces and nephews whom she had the pleasure of meeting at a family reunion this last July, and Luther's granddaughters, Tracy, Amanda and Leann Whitten, and two cats, Bernice and Doris. She is preceded by her parents, Arthur and Christine Haire Forster, her sister, Ethne Stearns, brother, Brian Forster, and nephew, Donald Stearns. A memorial is planned in Larkspurfor the spring of 2017.

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