Jean Dunnington (1950-2014)

By Martin Morse Wooster: Jean Dunnington, who was one of the founders of the Potomac River Science Fiction Society (PRSFS) in 1975 and who remained an active member of the club until her death, died on February 5. She had a very rare form of cancer.

Jeanie Dunnington worked as a cataloger at the Folger Shakespeare Library until her retirement in 1997.  While at the library, she was one of four catalogers who helped produce the 1993 publication Renaissance Animals, which accompanied an exhibit at the library. She also kept the Folger staff apprised of sf and fantasy books that had Shakespearian elements.

As long as I knew Jeanie, for nearly 40 years, she had vision problems that gradually got worse throughout her life. She never let her eyesight slow her down. She regularly attended Balticons, Disclaves, and Capclaves, where she could be spotted wearing floppy hats and a giant pink button that said, ‘I HAVE LOW VISION.’ She very much enjoyed filk concerts at cons.

Jeanie was one of PRSFS’s most avid readers. She started off as a major Andre Norton fan, but later branched out to read all sorts of books. At one point we had a discussion about who had read all 21of Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin novels. Jeanie had listened to all 21 books, and asked if that counted. Since she listened to unabridged audiobooks-which accounted for over 200 hours of listening — we said that of course that counted.

Jean Dunnington had many interests besides sf — so many, her sister Betty Thompson recalled at her memorial service, that she was known to her many friends as “the little engine that could.” She was very active in her church, St. Bernadette’s Catholic Church in Silver Spring, Maryland. In 2010, she was elected a vice-president of the National Capital Area Chapter of the American Council of the Blind, where she served two terms. In 2012, she was elected as secretary of the American Council of the Blind in Maryland. Jeanie was also active in advising the Montgomery County, Maryland Libraries on all sorts of issues that concerned disabled patrons:  what’s the best way to design entrances to make it comfortable for disabled patrons to enter and leave? How should libraries be designed to make it easy for the disabled to move around?

Jeanie extended her efforts for disabled people to sf conventions. Whenever she was at a con, she always asked the hucksters why they didn’t carry more audiobooks.

Despite her vision problems, Jeanie Dunnington traveled frequently, including trips to Ireland and Greece. In 2006, New York Times reporter Sarah Wheaton interviewed Jeanie in the queue of people lining up outside the Capitol at the funeral of Gerald R. Ford. “Despite vision problems that make getting around somewhat difficult,” Wheaton reported, Dunnington spent two hours to get her chance to pay her respects. “I thought he deserves a proper showing,” Jeanie said. “I respect the office no matter who’s in it.”

Jeanie Dunnington was one of the most pleasant people I have known in fandom, who always had intelligent things to say about the books she read. I never knew her to raise her voice or complain, even as she dealt with her failing eyes and her recovery from complicated surgeries. She had many friends in fandom — and no enemies.

3 thoughts on “Jean Dunnington (1950-2014)

  1. At the funeral home, the family had a display of her hat, her cane, and several other artifacts. The button on her hat with the legend “I have low vision” had the “low” crossed out, so that the button read “I have vision.”

    Indeed she did. She will be missed.

  2. I think I saw her at conventions — certainly I remember that button — but never actually knew her.

    That’s a fine eulogy, Martin.

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