Obituary: Jan Latrobe Abbott, 1941-2024 | Obituaries | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Obituary: Jan Latrobe Abbott, 1941-2024

ESL teacher and active volunteer made many lasting friendships throughout her life

Published April 29, 2024 at 6:00 a.m.
Updated April 29, 2024 at 11:03 a.m.

Jan Latrobe-Abbott - COURTESY
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  • Jan Latrobe-Abbott

Jan Latrobe (Timmerman) Abbott, 83, died April 13, 2024, at Birchwood Terrace Rehab and Healthcare in Burlington, Vt., after a courageous 10-month battle with glioblastoma brain cancer. The only child of the late John Clinton and Anne Latrobe New Timmerman, she was born on April 11, 1941, in New York City. She spent her teenage years in the Westchester County community of Mamaroneck, N.Y., graduating from Rye Neck High School in 1958.

She received a BA degree in 1963 and an MA in 1968, both in French, from Middlebury College, and she attended the Middlebury German Summer School in 1990. She also took and audited courses in education, German and Spanish at the University of Vermont and in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) at St. Michael’s College. At Middlebury, she made many lifelong friendships with professors and classmates, worked on the stage crew for theater productions and joined the hiking club.

After meeting fellow hiker Harris Abbott, of Burlington, in 1960, at a Green Mountain Club Intersectional Camp Week at the Mt. Norris Boy Scout Reservation, they were married in Mead Memorial Chapel at Middlebury College on August 18, 1963, beginning an enduring 60-year partnership of opposites, with a love of mountains, nature, joining, teamwork and organizing outings. Her romance with Vermont had begun while skiing with her father and at Middlebury; marriage brought commitment to a man and to the state, not one that some Vermonters were prepared to recognize. The Burlington Free Press titled the engagement announcement, “New York Girl Will Be Married to Harris Abbott.”

She taught seventh- and eighth-grade French from 1963-67 in the current Fleming School building in Essex Junction, and after what she referred to jokingly as a “24-year maternity leave,” taught K-12 ESL in all the Essex Junction schools from 1991-2001. A transplant to Vermont herself, and in addition to helping immigrant students learn English, she delighted in introducing them and their families to American holiday customs. She sourced Halloween costumes for them and invited them to her house to carve jack-o’-lanterns to take home. It thrilled her to be an “honorary grandmother” at the wedding of a former student. Working part-time during her child-raising years, she tutored French and German IBM wives in English, worked as a reporter and copy editor from 1983-89 at the Essex Reporter, and from 1973-85, as an interviewer and supervisory field representative on sample surveys for the U.S. Bureau of the Census. Through this Census Bureau work, her knowledge of the backroads of Vermont came to equal that of her husband.

She enjoyed having an active social life, excelled at organizing and was a committed volunteer. She made many friends in the process; these friendships sustained her through her final year. At various times, she served as president of the Essex League of Women Voters, the Burlington and Bread Loaf sections of the Green Mountain Club, and as a director of the Green Mountain Club. She and her husband were both end-to-enders on the Long Trail, and after 50+ years’ involvement with the GMC, they received the Honorary Life Member award. Work in the Essex League of Women Voters allowed her to meet a stimulating group of other transplants to Vermont, contribute to maintaining the integrity of elections and increasing voter registration and turnout, and learn about local politics. By agreeing to run for a local election and taking on leadership roles in various organizations, she continued a family tradition of challenging gender stereotypes and expanding the scope of roles for women. Other volunteer work included support for Vermont Public Radio and Television; seven years as a Flynn Spirit; three years monitoring parent-child visits at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Center; more than 16 years delivering Meals on Wheels; service on the program committee of EEE, the senior lecture series in South Burlington; and on various committees at the First Unitarian Universalist Society in Burlington.

During a dream year off from college, spent traveling round Europe and working in the foreign department of Deighton Bell, a university-oriented bookstore in Cambridge, England in 1961-62, she made many lifelong British friends. More friendships arose from hosting foreign teachers who came to the U.S. through exchange programs. She made other European friends from teaching English to the Essex Junction IBM families. An avid traveler and devourer of atlases, maps, and guidebooks, she visited six continents with her husband and friends, and would have added sailing through Drake Passage to Antarctica to the list had illness not intervened. Her other interests were reading, learning, politics, crossing things off lists, corresponding in three languages, gardening (lots of transplanting), cooking, entertaining, music, theater, cycling, hiking, snowshoeing, swimming and water aerobics, cross-country skiing and walking her family’s dogs.

She was a devoted friend, as well as daughter, daughter-in-law, wife, mother and grandmother. As an only child, she rejoiced in having family, both her husband and his family, their children and grandchildren and her extended Timmerman family. She was always planning ways to enrich her children’s lives through trips, hobbies, education, cultural events and sports and made many personal sacrifices to fund these projects. If she had a regret in her last months of a life well lived, it was that she would not see her grandchildren grow up and be there to support them.

In addition to her husband, Harris, the man she called her “rock,” she leaves a daughter, Deborah Abbott, of Essex Junction and Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia; son, Christopher Abbott, of Glastonbury, Conn., his wife Michele Newton, and grandchildren, Marcus, Harris and Cora; and daughter, Marilyn Abbott Aldrich, and her husband, LTC Scott Aldrich, of Essex Junction, and grandson, Marrack Theodore. She also leaves behind many cherished cousins and friends here and abroad who faithfully wrote, called, visited and provided meals during her illness.

A memorial service will be held at the First Unitarian Universalist Society at the head of the Church St. Marketplace in Burlington, on Saturday, June 8, 2024.

Contributions in her memory may be made to the Green Mountain Club, 4711 Waterbury-Stowe Rd., Waterbury Ctr., VT 05677, Vermont Public, PO Box 57, 365 Troy Ave., Colchester, VT 05446-0057, or the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Burlington, 152 Pearl St., Burlington, VT 05401.

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