If you participated in the annual Multiple Sclerosis (MS) walk, Jean Jary would often be the one welcoming the walkers at the finish line. Jean met countless dignitaries during her life such as Prime Ministers John Diefenbaker and Pierre Trudeau, Terry Fox, the Premier of China and the Empress of Iran. Jean was named a lifetime member of Guelph’s Community Living for her ongoing support of individuals and received a 40-year pin for volunteering with the Canadian Cancer Society. She loved to be outdoors, being active, reading and working on crossword puzzles and she baked the best butter tarts around. She was also a constant at St. Joseph’s Health Centre in Guelph, visiting and caring for her two daughters in complex continuing care.
Jean Jary exhibited utter devotion to her family, her husband and the City of Guelph as beloved wife of Norm Jary (former Mayor of the City of Guelph) for over 64 years of marriage and as the longest First Lady in the Guelph’s history (1970 – 1985).
Jean passed away peacefully on Sunday November 15, 2015 at St. Joseph’s Health Centre, Guelph at the age of 89 with Norm by her side.
Jean Lorraine Barnes was born on June 17, 1926 in Toronto. Her middle name was chosen to honour the location where her dad survived a head wound in the First World War. Her father Claude was a master carpenter and her mother Ada was a homemaker. Jean was one of five siblings, being sister to Nellie, Eileen, Tom and Shirley.
The Barnes family lived in a two storey house and Jean often came down the stairs jumping the last three steps. Her dad would tell her to go back up the stairs and come down like a lady. But habit prevailed and she continued to jump the last three steps. She grew up next door to Nellie Roberts, born two weeks apart from Jean, and they became lifelong friends.
Jean often went fishing with her Dad growing up, and as she got older, she taught Sunday school at the church in Toronto the family attended. It was at this church that Jean met Norm Jary, also a member of the congregation. Jean was 18 and Norm was 15 years of age at the time. Norm’s father was concerned about his young age being 15 and spending time with an 18 year old woman. Norm’s father walked Jean home one night, expressing concern that they might get married before Norm even finished school. Jean assured him they would wait until schooling was over. So Jean and Norm continued to court, taking long walks together and holding hands, eventually marrying seven years later. As Dr. Debra Nash Chambers wrote in Historic Guelph, “Winning Jean may have been Norm’s first successful campaign.”
Jean worked at Elizabeth Arden’s in Toronto and later an accounting firm in Stratford. Norm and Jean moved to Guelph shortly after giving birth to identical twin daughters in Stratford. In addition to the twins, Jean had two more children, resulting in having four children in three years – Linda, Sandra, Norm Jr. and Marilyn.
Jean believed in fresh air for the children and could always be seen walking down the street with the carriage and the kids all in tow. She also enjoyed taking the children to the Friday night Guelph hockey games at Guelph Memorial Gardens. Each year on May 24, she invited the neighbours and their children to their driveway to set off fireworks. Jean always made hot chocolate and cookies.
Most of the time while the kids were growing up, Jean’s backyard was full of the neighbourhood children. She liked this because she could keep an eye on them all and make sure they were okay. Linda shared, “Our Mother was the heart of our home. She loved being a mom and wife, and her kids thought she was the greatest. Mom also had a special connection with all of our friends. In the spring, she would be out in the driveway playing hopscotch and double-dutch skipping with us. She knew how to have fun and always joined in.”
Jean was an excellent cook and was famous for her butter tarts, which she made for Norm’s various special events at the City and it was also what her neighbours and City staff hoped she would be bringing as her food item for various occasions. Jean’s favourite place to holiday was Bangor Lodge, near Bracebridge which gave her a break from her work at home, where they made the beds, made the meals and provided entertainment.
Dianne Scobie met Jean 47 years ago when she moved across the street from the Jarys on Freeman Ave. “My first real encounter was a few weeks later when she came to a parent-teacher interview in regard to her son Norm’s progress in school. In spite of the fact that there were no problems this was typical of the interest and involvement that Jean always had as a mother,” recalled Dianne. “She was a wonderful mother role model for the rest of us in the neighbourhood, not only as our children were growing up but for the rest of her life.”
Dianne and Jean walked together for exercise for many years; covering many miles in Guelph. Jean made a point of staying active, taking part in ‘Fun and Fitness’ classes at Dublin United Church, which she often led. She challenged any kids present to a race, making a point to engage the mothers in attendance just as much as their children. In her later years, Jean also enjoyed line dancing at the Evergreen Senior’s Centre.
Jean always preferred working outside to inside the home, and she helped Norm with their beautiful gardens which were often shown on gardens tours. Jean enjoyed cutting the lawn, shoveling snow, and painting, which helped Norm to attend to his mayoral duties. She even knocked on doors during campaigns in support of her husband. “Jean was my main motivation to succeed” shared Norm. “I always wanted to be successful to be worthy of her love and support. Nothing else came close to her devotion to our marriage and our family.”
During Norm’s tenure on City Council, Jean poured at hundreds of teas in long gowns and white gloves, often connecting with the other wives of MPs and MPPs to make sure they weren’t all wearing the same gowns or to coordinate wearing the same colour. Jean used to get up early in the summer and golf nine holes with Norm at 6:00 am at Victoria Park West, while following the greens keepers, before he headed off to City hall. Jean was not a very good golfer, but humoured Norm by going with him and they reveled this time alone together.
Jean had an incredible ability to remember names at the drop of a hat, which was very helpful to her husband Norm. They became hosts for Guelph Travel Bureau then Royal City Travel, travelling to approximately 60 countries together.
It was just after graduating university, when daughter Linda was diagnosed with MS. It slowly took away the use of her legs and arms which was when she had to give up driving and working. She went from a cane to a walker, a wheelchair and now Linda is in in a motorized wheelchair that she controls with her chin. Twin sister Sandra was diagnosed with a more aggressive form of MS 19 years after Linda’s diagnosis.
Jean went to St. Joe’s twice per day, every day, to visit her daughters. Jean often fed Linda while Sandra was on a feeding tube. Norm would often tend to a small garden out front of the building. It is in this garden during the summertime that contains a statue in memory of Sandra, who passed away in 2007 due to complications arising from MS.
Linda shared about her mother, “When she would end our visits at St. Joseph’s, she would stop and say ‘I love you very, very much’ and I would say this back to her. Sometimes we did it in reverse order. My fondest memory of Mom is how loved she always made me feel.”
Along with her own children, Jean treasured her five grandchildren: Ryan, Brandon, Miranda, Paul and Carol-Jean, along with four great grandchildren: Penny, Piper, RJ and Brooklyn. Jean was not much of a singer, and one day she was singing and Brandon said, “Don’t make that awful noise, Grandma!”
Jean had suffered from strokes and ended up in long term care for almost a year at St. Joseph`s Health Centre in Guelph, eventually losing her ability to communicate. It was there that she received tremendous care and compassion.
Norm shared, “Jean was left-handed, and she had a sign on top of the stove that read, ‘Everyone is born right handed. Only the gifted overcome it.’ She turned out to be a gift to me, the family and to others in our community.”
A memorial bench in Jean’s memory will be placed alongside the tree and memorial plaque in memory of her and Norm’s daughter Sandra, in Norm Jary Park this spring.