Jean Thomas Gordon, age 97, passed away on February 1, 2024. She will be remembered for her infectious laugh, her courage in the struggle for human rights and positive race relations, her sympathy for the oppressed, and her untiring interest in promoting world peace and nuclear disarmament.
Born in 1926 in Little Rock to Herbert L. and Ruby Thomas along with her twin sister, Jane [Thomas McGehee Wilson], Jean lived most of her life in Little Rock. During teen years, her family moved to Fayetteville, AR, where she graduated from Fayetteville High School in 1943. She loved living on the family farm and particularly enjoyed horseback riding and winning blue ribbons with her horse, My Ann Dare. To expand her horizons, she went to college in Massachusetts and in 1947 graduated from Wellesley College with a philosophy major.
In 1949 she married Frank Gordon, and had three children: Anne, Tom, and Jane. The family participated in Westover Hills Presbyterian Church, actively promoting racial integration. After a divorce from Frank, she married Walter Clancy, a public health educator. Sandi Montealegre, a foreign student from Columbia, lived with Jean and Walter for a number of years and became like an adopted daughter.
Jean’s activism and community spirit led to her involvement with numerous organizations and participation in protests, marches, and voting campaigns.
Jean was an active member of the Women’s Emergency Committee to Open Our Schools during the 1958–1959 Little Rock school crisis and later was president of the Little Rock PTA Council and began the joining of the white and black councils. She was elected to the Little Rock School board in 1965 and served one term until the segregationists took over and found they had no choice but to integrate the schools. She served as secretary of the Arkansas Council of Human Relations and represented white Protestants on the Panel of American Women, which traveled the state to promote racial and religious equality.
Jean became active in the peace movement as a member of the Arkansas Peace Center and later the board of Arkansas Peace Links and was on the Threshold Foundation’s Peace Committee. When the Cold War ended and Peace Links dissolved, she founded Arkansas WAND (Women’s Action for New Directions) as a chapter of WAND, Inc. and served on the national board as well. WAND members work to reduce violence and militarism and abolish nuclear weapons.
Jean was also a Founding member of the Whole Person Center, which promoted holistic consciousness. The Gordon home was often the site of discussions on progressive subjects, and the organization ACORN (The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) was born in Jean’s living room.
As a progressive politically, Jean hosted the first reception for President Bill Clinton when he was running for Arkansas Attorney General, a woman’s coffee with a few neighbors.
Other interests included the Arkansas Arts Center Building Committee and Church Women United. She served on the boards of Henderson State University, the Friends of the Repertory Theater, the Literacy Council of Pulaski County, the Pastoral Care Board at UAMS, and WE CARE of Pulaski County.
Her work experience included being a buyer and bookkeeper for the Red Apple Gift Shop on Eden Isle. She also organized and edited a cookbook, Feasts of Eden, by Ruby Thomas.
Jean’s business affiliations included serving on the board of Frostyaire for Frozen Foods, a family-owned business, and being co-owner of Juanita’s Restaurant.
Jean’s hobbies included pottery, cooking, travel, entertaining foreign visitors, computing and swimming.
Jean is preceded in death by her parents and siblings, husband Walter Clancy, former husband Frank Gordon, and daughter Jane Collier Gordon Varner.
Jean is survived by daughter Anne Gordon Perry (Tim), son Thomas Scott Gordon, granddaughters Kathryn (Kathy) Lindenmayer and Lauren DeNeve; grandsons Will and Matthew Varner, great-grandchildren Joshua Lindenmayer and Lucy DeNeve, and a number of nephews and nieces.
Memorial gifts in Jean’s honor may be given to Arkansas WAND (https://www.arkwand.com) or scholarship funds associated with the Andre Simon Memorial Fund for culinary students through Arkansas Community Foundation or Jane and Ned Varner scholarship at Troy University in Montgomery, Alabama or a charity of your choice.
A memorial program will be held on Saturday, February 10, 11 am, at the Unitarian Church, 1818 Reservoir Rd., Little Rock.
Arrangements by A Natural State Funeral Service 2620 West Main Street, Jacksonville, Arkansas 72076. 501-982-3400. Online guestbook available www.anaturalstatefuneralservice.com