SELECTIONS FROM ROBERT BLEY-VROMAN'S SPEECH AT JEAN KING'S MEMORIAL SERVICE, DEC. 28, 2013 AT KAWAIHAO CHURCH
I recall that when I first began attending Quaker Meeting myself, I was struck by how unprepossessing and quiet Jean was. Other Quakers have shared their impressions of Jean with me, in preparation for this service, and Jean’s “quiet” nature was mentioned again and again. Jean was a public figure and powerful political leader. One does not expect such people to be quiet and unassuming. One member of Meeting says “I thought with all her experiences she would be very vocal and assertive. Jean was remarkable in that she moved easily from power, assertiveness, and action in the public arena with quiet confidence, order, serenity, and peace in Quaker Meeting.
Jean kept Quakers focused on social concerns in Hawaii. Through her invitation, Utu Langi, organizer of Hawaii Helping the Homeless Have Hope, came to speak to Meeting, and Jean organized a network of Quakers who contributed financially to this initiative. While not a radical religious pacifist in the Quaker tradition, Jean supported peace work. Friends recall her confident presence at peace vigils and demonstrations. She was a trooper when it came time to standing up for peace and justice. She did not talk too much about it but when it came time to show up she was usually there.
Jean was an avid reader of the news, of books, and essays. Frequently, she would share what she found with others of us—often by telephoning us at home. One Friend, with failing eyesight and unable to read herself, received daily phone calls from Jean. Jean would read aloud on the phone articles that she had found that she thought would interest her friend.
Jean was a friend of Pete Seeger. I recall last year, the day before Pete Seeger’s birthday, Jean phoned me, and we decided we would sing Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” at the end of Meeting for Worship. So, we duplicated sets of the words, and passed them out. Quakers are not generally lusty singers, but in this case we sang with enthusiasm—partly for Pete and, at least in my case, partly for Jean.
I recall, too, once when Jean and I were driving alone, back to Honolulu from an event up by Malaekahana . She spoke of her early days working in organized labor in California, and all the way home we sang union songs: Union Maid, Ballad of Joe Hill, and many others. Just this summer, Jean and I began plans to try to organize a concert and sing-along of union songs for Labor Day 2013 on the UH Manoa campus. Unfortunately, this did not come to fruition. Perhaps, as a memorial to Jean, we should try again next year.
Finally, let me read some recollections given to me by another Member of Quaker Meeting.
“Jean had a way of being in the world I've never witnessed before. She never referred to days gone by, nor did she seem to anticipate tomorrow. She saw each new day of life as a gift, complete with something to be appreciated - or celebrated. And she shared that good news. She'd call and remind me- that this was the first day of Spring or the anniversary of the printing press, the first day of the new moon, that our favorite public television program was about to start. (I wonder how many of us have sung- "Happy Birthday to You" to Pete Seeger at Jean's urging.) Jean was one of those rare people who had inner eyes—eyes that see the blessings, For me, knowing her has shown me how it is possible to live.
“Four of us from meeting had lunch together each month. As I looked back, I realized they were not the usual ladies' lunch, instead we talked about the world we live in: Hawaii, its people, America, the world (Jean often had a news clipping to share). The usual conversation about, our health, our families, our lives didn't seem to happen. Instead we were drawn to the world to the all we live in. Jean was at home there too.
“Jean was a private, serene gentle lady. She did not talk a lot. The way she lived her life was a lesson in beautiful living.
“Frequently she would come to our lunches carrying three lovely roses one far each of us, It reminded me of life's beauty. At one of our recent luncheons at Waioli Tea Room, I saw a sign that I brought home and will hang. It will remind me of Jean. It reads:
"’For all our blessings, we give thanks.’"