Capitol Notebook: Friendship, loyalty, grace defined Jean and John Cole

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Our friend John Cole, longtime columnist for The Forecaster and founder of Maine Times, had several nicknames for his adored wife, Jean. When she appeared in his columns, she was variously the “master gardener,” or his “brown-eyed friend.”

John’s brown-eyed friend, Jean, died last week. In the midst of the sadness, I wanted to pay tribute to these two wonderful friends who helped build The Forecaster in its early days. Both John, who died in 2003, and Jean were friends of The Forecaster and contributed both John’s wonderful columns, which graced our pages from the earliest days, and a friendship and moral support that I was grateful for as we built this business.

John was an amazing writer, who wrote with thoughtful passion, reflecting both his love of the natural world around him, and an anger at the wars and other folly of politicians.

He wrote about the snow on the shortest winter day in a way that makes you ashamed that you ever thought snow was annoying:

“As the light of the short days changes, as the sun makes its hasty trip across the southern edge of the winter sky, the quality of the snow itself takes on different character and color.

“It is pale orange and pink in the reflected promise of the sunrise; it becomes blue snow instead of white in the sun’s open rays when the sky is clear; and the evening, the snow is violet as the sun sets. Only under cloudy skies, when more snow is about to fall, is the open snow white, the way it is thought to be always.”

This was this kind of writing that I was so honored to have in the pages of The Forecaster.

And Jean Cole was as much of a support for us during those early years.

They both shared their gift for love and friendship, and of finding and bringing new people into their fold. Their combined family included six kids, and many young neighbors and friends who would share Jean’s wonderful dinners.

And Jean was always so much fun, always enjoying the joke and the people around her. Her obituary noted that she held many important positions, as the executive secretary of the Charles Vanorski Recalcitrant Society, and as the senior vice president of John’s Non-Company. One wonders about these companies, but it shows her wit and enjoyment. She was the copy editor for John’s work, and the muse for his columns.

Jean and John first became friends with my parents after my dad, an admirer of John’s early Maine Times writing, visited him seeking advice for me, his daughter interested in journalism. While there was no job for me there, a friendship began, and dad worked on John’s (unsuccessful) campaign to fend off the return of the moose hunt.

I first met Jean when dad and I took her to lunch at Annabelle’s, a long-ago restaurant at Seawall on Mount Desert. We had a lovely time, Jean was charming, smiling and laughing; my father was smitten. Jean had a gift of laughter, and of enjoying the people around her.

Soon, dad had persuaded John and Jean to take up nine-wicket croquet, a seemingly arcane yet intense game played on the lawn at our family’s hotel, the Claremont. A high-level, deeply competitive annual event that dad christened, the Claremont Croquet Classic is held every August. Out of friendship and loyalty – two of their defining traits – Jean and John took to the game with characteristic verve. While both their names grace the Claremont winners’ board, Jean may have been the more skillful player and became a singles’ champion.

But mostly they were terrific friends. They came to the 100th birthday party of the Claremont, held in 1984, and brought a lot to party, as they say. John gave a speech, pointing out how little the hotel had changed in that century.

But it is Jean who I’ll always remember from that night. To the lively tunes of the Royal River Jazz Band, she danced a brisk Charleston on the Claremont croquet court. She danced with graceful enthusiasm, how a Charleston probably should be danced, and that memory fills me with both sadness and profound gratitude for her friendship.

Portland resident Marian McCue is the former editor and publisher of The Forecaster.

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