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You Must Remember This: Superjean


I was chatting with someone about a new group I’m part of, Good Neighbor Newport, and he asked about the genesis of the group.

“Jean,” I said.

“Ah, of course,” he replied.

You know you’ve made an impact when all it takes is your first name.

Jean Watt has indeed made an impact on our city, but it certainly wasn’t an early path laid out. Although a decade younger than my mother, they grew up in the same era when gender roles were less fluid. As a woman, your destiny was to be a wife and a mother. What happened after that never seemed to be discussed. Like my mother, Jean fit into that role. Both of them led Brownie and/or Girl Scout troops, worked at the Junior League’s dental clinic, but once the kids were out of the house, my mother spent most of her time playing cards and golf. She enjoyed them both immensely and was good at both. At one point she had a nine handicap in golf, not bad for someone who took up the sport in her 30s, but she wasn’t someone to start or lead an organization. Give her a role in the chorus, particularly a comedic one, and she was content.

Jean could have followed the same path. She’s an excellent bridge player, so it’s not like she neglected that aspect, but at one point someone reached out and said, “We’ve got an issue, and we need help.”

Talk about your trigger points. Mrs. Watt went into the phone booth.  Superjean emerged. An activist was born. In the ensuing years, she has been a leading figure, particularly when it comes to the environment. The number of organizations she has helped found and lead include SPON, Friends of Harbors, Beaches and Parks and Orange Coast River Park, but she’s far from a one-trick pony. A few years ago, she decided the city needed an animal shelter of its own.  Friends of the Newport Beach Animal Shelter was born, and now the city has that shelter. Name a local issue and she’s probably played a significant role.

As the old Virginia Slims slogan states, “we (women) have come a long way,” but there are lingering prejudices that sometimes cling to women’s accomplishments: Someone who has succeeded this much in the public sphere must have made huge sacrifices in the private sphere, i.e. their families. I don’t believe that is the case in general, and I know it’s not the case with Jean, and if you doubt it, just watch the video of her Citizen of Year dinner when her daughters did a presentation that was so loving and affectionate it underlined what a great mother she was.

So how does she do it? How does one person accomplish so much? One of Jean’s strengths is her quiet approach to things – quiet, but steady. She has a remarkable ability to keep her eye on the prize. Opponents have not always been pleasant. She shrugs it off. The goal is what’s important and she helps everyone remember that. I can’t tell you how many times a group has gotten together and as we start to talk, most of us are like puppies let out in the yard, darting after every butterfly and bee, getting caught up in all sorts of off-the-subject topics until Jean quietly reins us in and puts us back on the scent we’re supposed to be following.

When most of her peers have gone into retirement, Jean remains engaged.  The initial start of Good Neighbor Newport got sidelined by COVID and some other issues, but once things settled down there came the suggestion from Jean that it was time to reconvene. We did, and it was much as usual, the puppies cavorting mindlessly until the Master of the Hounds, in this case – the Mistress – quietly got us back on track. Superjean.


Nancy Gardner, former Mayor of Newport Beach, long-time resident and daughter of Judge Robert Gardner, is a regular contributor to Stu News Newport.

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