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Jean Elizabeth Sullivan March 24, 1925 – Jan. 20, 2017

Posted: Wednesday, Feb 8th, 2017


Jean Elizabeth Sullivan, 91, passed from Alzheimer’s early on Jan. 20, 2017, at Sunrise at George Mason Assisted Living Facility in Fairfax, Virginia.

Jean was born March 24, 1925 in Taft, Calif. to Mildred Louise Sullivan (Beall) — a professional piano teacher — and Willard Edmond Sullivan – a chemical engineer for Standard Oil Company of California.

She is survived by her sons, Myles (Marian Chou), Felix (Judith Berman), Linus, and Laura (David Cazden). She also is survived by her grandchildren, Asa, Dieter, Amalia and Levi as well as her younger sister, Julia Irwin. She was preceded in death by her ex-husband, Helmut Nienstadt, in 2005, her close friend, Carolyn Davis, in 1980, and a younger sister, Holly Sullivan, in 2008.

In 1942, Jean graduated as valedictorian of her rural high school in Garden Grove, Calif. Instead of entering Pomona College, she lived a year in Seattle with her paternal uncle’s family and, in her first week, found employment as a clerk in the collections department of the Seattle Gas Company.

There, she read a Reader’s Digest article on biodynes — then believed to be a miracle ointment for cancer — prompting her to wonder whether pain was the signal of the body’s resources to rush reinforcements for repair.

To answer her curiosity, she enrolled in Pomona College’s pre-med program and graduated in 1947.

Over a three-year period, Jean applied 16 times unsuccessfully to medical schools. In 1948, only 5,000 out of 24,000 applicants were accepted and of those, less than 10 percent were women.

While waiting, she became a lab assistant at Scripps Institute of Oceanography in La Jolla, California — one project called Operation Cold Spot had her floating on a small tuna tender off Baja California for days, 12 hours a day, measuring water temps every minute for the first three hours and then every three minutes for the next nine hours.

In 1950, she gained admission to the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Starting in 1954, during 52 years of service on behalf of humanity, she ministered to broken dock workers and ailing orchestra conductors in San Francisco; to orphans and mothers-to-be in war-ravaged Kunsan, South Korea; to school children and young working families in Oakland, Calif.; to intellectually disabled persons who lived in a rural state-owned community in Connecticut that was pioneering in the study of pediatric genetics; to Navajo families and several hundred babies that she delivered and cared for in the Page, Kaibito, Coppermine clinics of Northern Arizona; to families at a urban community clinic in Tucson; and to the families of southeast Kentucky in the most medically underserved county in the United States east of the Mississippi River.

She was employed by California’s Kaiser Permanente — one of the country’s first managed health care plans, by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) in Korea, the State of Connecticut’s Southbury Training School, the Departments of Family and Community Medicine for the University of Utah and the University of Arizona, and briefly by the Frontier Nursing Service in Hyden, Kentucky.

At the age of 60, she finally decided to open Redbud Family Health Center, her own clinic in Hyden that she operated for 20 years before being forced to retire at age 81 by her illness.

In addition to her own practice in Kentucky, she worked with the health departments of Leslie, Knott, Letcher, and Perry Counties.

She helped with the local hospice program, local clinics, the Mary Breckinridge and Hazard Hospitals, and the Hyden Nursing Home.

She will be cremated and her ashes will be scattered among friends in the pinyon pine high desert of Medicine Valley, Coconino County, Arizona.

Remembrances may be made to the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC).



For the complete article see the 02-08-2017 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 02-08-2017 paper.


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