She lived an extraordinary life

My mother-in-law died last week, and I miss her very much. Hard to imagine this world without her. Read my wife’s tribute below, and you will miss her too.

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Truda Cleeves Jewett died peacefully at home on October 18, 2017. She lived an extraordinary life.

She answered to Truda, T., or Mom. Occasionally to T-Bone. She spent her childhood in Marblehead, MA, Keeseville, NY and Fort Myers, FL. She was the oldest of six siblings, whose bonds were forged through love and solidarity mixed with considerable mischief.

In Marblehead, T. shared a love for sailing and racing with Link Jewett. Their meeting — on a boat, of course — was inevitable. They married in 1954. In Link, T. had found a partner whose sense of curiosity about the world and love for travel aligned with her own. At the same time, he was her lighthouse, giving her the bearings to explore ever farther afield yet always find her way back to safe harbor. T. and Link spent the early years of their marriage in Cambridge, MA and Washington, DC. In DC, T took up golf and within months became women’s champion at Congressional Country Club, a title she held for three years running. They moved in 1963 to Darien, CT, where they raised their two daughters, Lisa and Lolly, and have remained since. Between them they logged countless hours and nautical miles on successive powerboats, Sam Cat and Sam Cat II.

From an early age T. had a mind of her own, along with the daring and adventurousness to put it to good use. She traveled to dozens upon dozens of countries around the earth — throughout Europe, Eurasia, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and Africa, including Cuba, Burma, Tibet, Afghanistan, Mauritania, Zimbabwe, Russia and Georgia. Among these ventures was an epic trek in the early 1970s to the Mount Everest base camp, where she tested her endurance and forged some of her closest lifelong friends. She especially adored Mexico and India, whose bright colors, tastes and sounds complemented her own spirit.  She also traveled throughout the U.S., seeing much of it from the decks of boats large and small, cruising on oceans, lakes, rivers and inland waterways.

In the 1970s, T. channeled her talents through a camera, winning multiple awards for her distinctive black and white images and, with her business, Jewett Photography, capturing portraits of many families in Darien and the surrounding communities.

T. considered herself a loyal Bostonian, but New York was unquestionably the city that most captured her imagination and matched her own energy. She plugged into the city through a small and much-loved studio apartment on the east side of Manhattan; through the arts, including the Metropolitan Opera, the New York Philharmonic, the ballet, and the museums, not to mention Broadway, off-Broadway, and off-off-Broadway; and through work — primarily raising millions of dollars in funds to support New York’s youth. She served as executive director of the Coro Foundation, director of development at the Children’s Aid Society, and as a consultant to the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center. In the midst of this, she earned a master’s degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

She proudly served as a trustee on the boards of the New Canaan Winter Club; the Darien Library; Kimball Union Academy; Outward Bound; the National Theater of the Deaf; the Vietnam Children’s Fund in Hanoi, Vietnam; the Edwin Gould Foundation; the American Farm School in Thessaloniki, Greece; the Morgan Stanley Smith Barney Global Impact Funding Trust; Wireless Generation; the Harvard Alumni Association; the Harvard Club of New York; and National Public Radio’s Story Corps.

Even more impressive than her professional accomplishments was her gift with people. She knew intuitively how to make whoever she was with feel special. She could carry on an engaging conversation with anyone, whether a world-famous composer, an elementary-school nephew, the President of the United States, or the checkout cashier at her favorite grocery store. Indeed, she took countless young people under her wing, getting them started in new areas of interest, academic pursuits and careers.

Her secret superpower was persuasion. At one time or another, she has convinced everyone who knew her well to do things they didn’t believe they had in them. Sometimes she convinced them to do things they suspected did not constitute good judgment. But if only for the stories they lived to tell, rarely did anyone regret following her lead.

If a legacy of stories is the mark of a life well lived, then T. built up a full library. A 1960s-era red Volkswagen camper bus was the focal point for several of these accounts, even though T. complained affectionately that “you couldn’t get that bus to go faster than 45 if you threw it out of an airplane.” The camper served as a refuge when, during a roadtrip with a gaggle of kids, nieces and nephews, the extended family got kicked out of a fleabag hotel for jumping on the beds. (For the record, the kids got some good air.) There were also several rollicking cocktail parties for which guests received formal invitations to fancy Park Avenue addresses. When the guests arrived, the white-gloved doorman — who was in on the scheme — would usher them into the VW bus that would be parked on the street out front and spilling over with revelers.

There was the visit to the island castle of  Mont St. Michel in Brittany, France, when T. and Lolly, absorbed in an exhibit in the early evening, got locked in a museum. They made a Hollywood-worthy escape that involved climbing through a medieval window and scaling treacherous rocky ledges. Or the trip in a rental car through the Yucatan when, amidst snorkeling sunburns and fresh conch ceviche, T. decided it was high time for Lisa, then 12 and barely tall enough to see over the dashboard, to learn to drive a car. On the highway. With her panicked younger sister in the backseat. Or even four years ago, when T. took her then preteen grandson, Charlie Oakes,  on a transatlantic crossing on the Queen Mary 2. Just the two of them. They had a glorious time. Back stateside, though, the one and only communication that Charlie’s anxious parents received during the entire crossing was a pre-departure photo from their stateroom of Charlie giddily quaffing champagne.

T. designed legendary scavenger hunts that had friends and family scouring much of Fairfield County for clues and bragging rights. She and her sister Lynn perfected pitch-perfect loon calls to round out family reunions on Squam Lake in New Hampshire. At Christmas time, there were conga lines around the house to the song Feliz Navidad. Wherever she went, there were gales of laughter. She brought great joy and inspiration to everyone she touched.

T. is survived by her husband, Charles Lincoln (Link) Jewett, her daughters, Lisa Jewett and Laura (Lolly) Jewett, her sons-in-law Joseph Remski and Abner Oakes, her grandson Charles Jewett Oakes, her sister Susan Ard, and her brothers David Cleeves and Michael Barba. Her sisters Lynn Simard, Gretchen Raskin and Helen Fuller pre-deceased her.

The family extends particular appreciation to Loly Jones, Wendy Hlongwane, Joyce Ayensu, Marlene Spahr, and Purity Manyara, who provided invaluable care and friendship to T. in her final months.

Donations in T.’s memory may be made to NYC Outward Bound Schools, the American Farm School, National Public Radio’s Story Corps, Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center, the Children’s Aid Society, or another of the organizations that she so loved.

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