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Posted on March 5, 2016 | 1:14 p.m.

Jean Louise Thomson of Santa Barbara, 1958-2016

Source: Ramsthaler Family

As I sit here reading the tributes to my sister-in-law, Jean Thomson, I am aware that certain words dominate: friend, radiant, hero, energy, spirit. It becomes crystal clear that Jean was a person so many of us not only loved but wanted to emulate.

Jean Thomson’s many admirers say she had a way of turning every person who crossed her path into a friend. (Thomson family photo)
Jean Thomson’s many admirers say she had a way of turning every person who crossed her path into a friend. (Thomson family photo)

Her friend, Fritz Martin, said it best with his sage Facebook advice:

“Be like Jean Thomson.”

Oh, if only we could. I think those of us in this massive assemblage of people who knew Jean, including those who loved her deeply, those who knew her well, and those who were briefly touched by her spirit realize that we are blessed by having known her. None of us can be Jean Thomson, but every single one of us is a better person because of her.

Jean Louise Thomson was born in Walnut Creek, California, to Jane and William Thomson. She grew up as a quintessential California girl. Jean was an earthy, free spirit with strong convictions about environmentalism and nature, whose sense of compassion and community spirit came as natural to her as breathing.

Jean was a tree-hugger but a non-preachy one. She lived her philosophy but didn’t nag you about yours. All the same, you wanted to be a better person if you knew her.

Good fortune would have it that Jean met my brother, David Ramsthaler, at UC San Diego when both were still kids. She graduated from UC Santa Barbara with a degree in Environmental Studies. Then, for 10 years she and David traveled, biked, hiked and explored nature. We got used to their footloose ways and wondered if they’d ever settle down.

Then came their “year of decisions.” At a family function, Jean and David held hands and shyly announced, “We’re going to have a baby.” Honestly, they looked like two scared little rabbits. These brave kids who traveled the world without a second thought were taking on a new endeavor that clearly intimidated them. But they mastered it.

Shortly after Emily was born, Jean ended her nascent career at the Air Pollution Control District and plunged head first into motherhood. She did a wonderful job. Her children, Emily and Evan, attend college at MIT and UC Santa Cruz, respectively, and are two fine human beings with some big shoes to fill.

When Jean was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000, she began a battle that she fought so quietly and stoically that it was easy to forget that she was sick. She did not allow any negativity. She rode her bike to chemotherapy as easily as healthy people take a spin around the block. She endured setbacks and side effects by ignoring them, and her cheerful, bubbly personality rarely wavered.

When the cancer returned in 2009 and she was informed it could not be cured, she armed herself with a positive attitude and made the firm goal to continue living life to the fullest. She wanted to finish raising her children. Way to go, Jeannie, you did that. Your children are beautiful.

Jean, a.k.a Lambchop, was a “best friend” to many people. You couldn’t help but feel joyful when with her. If you happened to be sad, or mad or stuck on something, she would point out something positive to focus on.

All who knew her say she had this incredible way of turning every person who crossed her path into a friend. From the mailman to the nurses at the Cancer Center, she learned everybody’s story and cared about them as people.

Besides her family and friends and her environmentalism, Jean had many other passions. She was an ocean swimmer, a birdwatcher, a cyclist, a yoga enthusiast and a gardener. Mostly, she was the natural glue that brought people together into fun and caring groups. You could call her a sort of “humanity glue.” She brought disparate folks together and by doing so made her community a better place.

My brother adored her. He called her Honey Bunch and Sweetie Pie and if he ever complained about her, it wasn’t in my presence. She must’ve been happy with him, too, because she was always smiling and bustling with a zest for life as only a truly happy woman could.

Jeannie, we all want to be more like you. We can treasure as gifts all you gave of yourself and hope those aspects become part of us. Even if the only thing we keep burned in our memory is your glorious, glowing smile and laugh, we’ll be forever richer for having known you.

Jean leaves behind her husband, David Ramsthaler; her two children, Emily and Evan Thomson; her mother, Jane Thomson; her brother, Steve Thomson; and her dog, Skye. The rest of us, too many to mention, include extended family members and many, many friends who also loved her dearly.

A celebration of Jean’s life will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. March 26, 2016, at the downtown Carrillo Recreation Center, 100 E. Carrillo St. in Santa Barbara. Reception to follow.


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