Jean Rosenbaum | 67-years old
July 6, 2017
Jean’s mother was on a date when she was 14-years old with a young man who did little to capture her heart and it didn’t take long for her attention to drift to her chauffeur who was sitting beside her. Before the end of the date, she found herself holding hands with the 16-year old chauffeur who would later become Jean’s father. The pair were a couple ever since that day for a total of 84-years, 77 of which they spent married. Jean’s father would eventually go off to serve in the army during World War II. He went on to became a general surgeon but was also an artist and a photographer. Her mother graduated from a college in Omaha and was a French teacher and taught Sunday school.
Jean enjoyed a privileged and very happy childhood in Portland, Oregon and hails from a close-knit family of doctors, eleven to be exact, some of which were made famous by movies and books. She is extremely close with her family and had a special bond with her mother, who passed at age 97, as well as her father, who lived to be 100. As a child, Jean and her father did every art form you can imagine together but it was photography that would later become an integral part of who she was.
She went to college in Boston and got a degree in English Language and Literature and then her Master’s degree in Counseling from the University of Puget Sound. She studied photography at Portland State and became an assistant to one of her teachers there. She later went on to do more photography with her own clients but occasionally partnered with her teacher for product shots in his studio, although they had very different styles. At one point she decided she did not want to do that anymore and switched gears and became an auto-broker instead, one of the first women in her time to do that. Jean was no stranger to shifting careers. Throughout her life, she worked at a clothing warehouse, as an EEG tech, a director of public relations for a hospital, owned her own advertising and commercial photography business, was a business development and public relations consultant for a hospice center before landing a more permanent marketing director role, as well as a fine art photographer.
Jean suffered from Fibromyalgia since 1985 and that converted to Chronic Fatigue in the mid-nineties. Around 2008, Jean’s life took an unexpected turn when she was diagnosed with an extremely rare form of cancer with a poor prognosis. She beat the odds though and since completing her cancer treatment, she has found that Chinese medicine, herbs, supplements, juicing, and exercise helps her stay healthy. After her cancer diagnosis, she knew that she needed to change her life if she were to have any sort of legacy at all. As someone who chose not to have children, Jean decided her life’s work would be dedicated to the Pacific Northwest Hospice Foundation, an organization which she became a workaholic to birth, even at the detriment of her own health. She said she might have been trying to make up for lost time because she felt she was a “slacker” in her earlier years. As a person raised in a Jewish family though, the concept of community and helping others was always at the forefront of her life.
Cancer helped Jean realize that she had to find joy in each day, even if it was just in the simple things like her signature shoes and glasses which you can’t help but notice when you meet her. It also was a wake-up call. She found she was just going along through life like it was going to last forever. She was surprised at all the people who turned up to support her when hearing of her cancer. It helped her feel more connected to the people in her life and that piece, she says was a gift: the people and the relationships. Her life doesn’t look anything like it had before.
Even though her life didn’t end up the way she thought it would when she was younger, she feels she is exactly where she is supposed to be and is ecstatic about where her life is headed. She has come to learn attributes are more important than skills. She is proudest of the hard work she and others put into building the Foundation and of her photography, which to this day surprised her that it was able to hold her interest for 49-years. Being childless, Jean does worry about who is going to be there in the end. She saw how it took a village to take care of her parents. Death, she says, is less of a concern to her. She’s more concerned about the indignity of aging and how the body fails. As someone who is very independent and wanting to take care of herself, she doesn’t like to ask for help.
Jean has two main pieces of advice for others. First, to appreciate time. When we wish it away by saying things like “I can’t wait for this or that to happen”, we aren’t appreciating it. Before you know it, you will go from 30 to 67 and wonder “where did all the time go?” We need to learn to slow down and appreciate the little things and live in the moment more. Second, she says never to be afraid to go after our dreams and think big. She attributes her success in life to just that. When asked what she thinks the meaning of [her] life is, she said simply: to be a teacher. She said it’s not really what you get out of it so much as what you put into it, the giving back piece. For her to be alive and still here means to give back, to help, and to teach. She wants to leave the world a better place than when she came into it. When her time does come, she wants to be remembered as generous and having given back by creating the Pacific Northwest Hospice Foundation which has impacted so many people in their final hours. She says being remembered for her photography would be an added bonus.