Remembering Mama Jean

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Last Saturday, we had a beautiful memorial service for Mama Jean Pannell, beloved member of our All Angels’ family since the 1980s. The gospel choir sang some of her favorites like “How I Got Over” and “O Happy Day,” imagining her singing and dancing her heart out right there with us. There were both tears and laughter as we shared stories about her. The Reverend Mark Swanson, former Director of Community Ministries, sent this precious remembrance of her from his days on staff at All Angels’:

My most prominent memory of my friend Jean comes from a winter’s day after a coat drive we had just completed at All Angel’s Church. Among the bags and bags of coats we received, someone had donated a beautiful fur. I can’t, for the life of me, understand what it was doing inside one of the black hefty bags I unloaded from the back of my father’s truck that day, along with the surplus army jackets and worn topcoats. I kept it in a closet in Palmer Hall and then, after the Pathways drop-in center closed its doors that Thursday afternoon, presented it to her as a gift from the Lord. Jean began to cry. And jump up and down. And hug me, as she cried, and jumped up and down. I don’t think I’d ever experienced such undiluted gratitude before, and I haven’t since.

Another memory that comes to mind is her ability to take teasing and the occasional practical joke, especially from me. One of Jean’s greatest fears was of rats. She, for very understandable reasons, hated them more than you can imagine. One day, someone brought in a remote controlled rat- a fake rat pelt covering a toy car chassis with eyes that had a malignant red glow. Well, Jean was at the front security desk and so I sent the rat into her space from around the corner of the stairwell. As I followed it in a moment later, smiling ear to ear, Jean was standing up on top of the desk, looking for the heaviest object she could find to throw at the little beastie. And then she saw me, and that she had been had, and immediately collapsed into unbridled laughter, her eyes shut, tears rolling out of them. Jean was a good sport.

I have been away from New York for nearly ten years now, and when I think of my days at All Angels’, Mama Jean is among the best of all the people I had the pleasure to know. She was tough as nails, kind and giving, deeply loyal, and never one to put up with what she felt to be false or unjust. She was a force. She was, as I think about my life as I approach my fiftieth year, one of the few people who have every truly loved me. That’s a fact.

I miss her, but I now look forward to the day in Jesus’ presence when I will see her again, and she will hug me, and we will cry, and jump up and down together again.

-Rev. Mark Swanson, Vancouver British Columbia.

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