Jean Ann (Carlson) O’Neill, 88 of Narragansett, passed away in the early morning hours of December 28, 2020, with her family by her side, and memories of a life well-lived in her heart. While her official cause of death will be listed as metastatic lung cancer, the truth is that she left us because she had done it all twice; loved fully, lived honestly, encouraged constantly, and shared her recipe for her now famous — and once guarded — green bean casserole with anyone who asked.
Born in Webster, Massachusetts during the depths of the Great Depression, she was the only daughter of the late Ralph Vinton Carlson and Anna Keith (Ferguson) Carlson. A perfect blend of her social and warm father and her stoic and practical mother, she loved family above all and her first loves were her late brothers Ralph, Robert (Bob) and Gordon, who affectionately called her “Jeannie.”
She graduated from Classical High School, class of 1950, which she called “difficult,” and was described in her yearbook as “the girl with a merry, charming twinkle in her eyes, and a personality to match.” She graduated from Rhode Island State College (URI) in the class of 1954 with a degree in Home Economics. Besides her degree, she left college with a life-long connection to South County and the beach. She was a member of the Delta Zeta sorority and had valued friendships which endured. It was at URI that she met her classmate John C. “Jack” O’Neill, 5 years older and back from WW2 service in the Pacific, whom she married in November 1954. Defying biological limits, their first born made his entrance 6 months later, giving Jean the title that she would treasure for the rest of her days: Mother.
Five more children followed, and when all was said and done, Jean was the mother of John “Chris,” Meredith, Steven, Michael, Kevin, and David. Jean and Jack reared their six children mostly on Pine Hill Road in Wakefield in a home that is still referred to as the “O’Neill house” even though an O’Neill hasn’t lived there for 36 years.
Those six children provided 22 grandchildren, who in turn have bestowed 28 great grandchildren, and she loved you all “to the moon and back.”
Jean was a member of the SK Junior Women’s Club, was a Cub Scout Den Mother, and a fixture in the bleachers, on the side lines, and in the audience for every game and performance of her children and grandchildren. A fierce advocate for her family, we always considered Mom our “unfair advantage.” The most iconic memory perhaps is of Mom on the beach at Galilee Beach Club, our family’s summer home for many years. Just ask her dermatologist, who will likely have to find a second job.
Life has a way of keeping you on your toes, and after nearly 25 years, Jean’s marriage to Jack ended. Through this difficult time Mom showed her family what resilience means. She went back to work, first at Abbajamme, a local women’s shop, and then at South County Hospital as a ward secretary on both the Obstetrics and Pediatrics floors, from where she retired. It was during this period that she met and fell in love with John McGovern, a recent widower, and the two of them healed – and grew – together over the course of the next 25 years until his death in 2010. Mom and John endlessly walked the beaches of South County and Naples, Florida, biked countless miles on Block Island and beyond, and reveled in the gatherings of each other’s families. It was in the final ten years of her life that Mom’s relationships deepened, her demeanor softened, and she became more comfortable in her role as the matriarch of her growing family.
Besides her family, Jean leaves behind many friends, especially Shirley Friel Gadrow, with whom she shared life’s joys and sorrows, and Friday nights at the Elks “but only when the fish was fresh.” She treasured her new Polo Club neighbors who provided so much kindness to her and her family.
Mom was most comfortable in the quiet of her home with her morning coffee (not too much cream, David!), her daily crossword, Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy, with full bird-feeders and her fingers in the dirt and mulch. Mom’s life was spent encouraging other things to grow. She was a voracious reader and was delighted by gifts of the latest book and had children and grandchildren helping to supply her 40 book a year “habit.” Perhaps her only regret is that she waited until late in life to realize just how good both salmon and brie can be, but not together.
Mom’s recent joy was her baptism and confirmation which took place on November 1st.
Visiting hours were held at Saint Thomas More Church on Jan. 2, followed by a Mass of Christian Burial. A celebration of her life will be held this summer.
In honor of Jean, fill your bird feeders, give your plants “a big drink” and call your Mother if you still can. Kindly omit flowers, unless it’s for your Mom or another important person in your life. Jean especially loved yellow roses. Memorial contributions can be made to The Prout School Athletic Field project, where the spectator’s gallery will fittingly be named in her honor. For condolence and a link for memorial donations, , averystortifuneralhome.com.