Obituary: Jeanne Guyett Wisner, 1930-2021 | Obituaries | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Obituary: Jeanne Guyett Wisner, 1930-2021 

91-year-old Shelburne resident was a free spirit and "woman before her time"

click to enlarge Jeanne Wisner - COURTESY PHOTO
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  • Jeanne Wisner

Jeanne Guyett Wisner: This amazing, extraordinary woman lived 91 years — and could have lived longer if esophageal cancer had not taken her. A lifetime smoker, she quit 20 years ago because it was affecting her singing voice. She was truly a free spirit, a woman before her time. This is her story, as told by her children who remember her.

She was born in Rensselaer, N.Y., on March 29, 1930, to T. Cassius and Beatrice Pettit Guyett. They moved to Ferrisburgh, Vt., and opened the Bee Hive on Route 7 when she was a little girl. Smart, beautiful and musically talented, she was accepted into Juilliard out of high school but didn’t go. She went to the University of Vermont as a premed major, met Jackson W. Wisner Jr. there, and left school to marry and have four children: Jay, Deborah, Katherine and Peter. Eventually, they settled in Wappingers Falls, N.Y.

Feeling constricted by her marriage, she left, with another divorced friend, for Fairview Village, Pa. Working various jobs — bookkeeper, dietitian — along with being a mother to her four children in a blended family, she found creative ways to stretch money and make the experience of growing up with divorced parents an adventure. There were noisy parades with pots and pans, “ghost” hide-and-seek in the dark, word games at the table, dramatic readings of stories and poems, piano playing in the living room while we children danced, homegrown birthday parties, elaborate Halloween parties, an annual Christmas caroling party, and music — always music — threaded throughout.

Jeanne continued to grow and stretch herself as her children grew. She worked as conference coordinator at the Episcopal Conference Center at Denbigh. Eventually she went back to school, to Temple University, and finished her degree in social work. She shared one semester there with both of her daughters!

She refurbished a house in Villanova while serving as executive director of a drug abuse prevention program, then met and got engaged to a man who took her on a trip around the world. She fell out of love with him but fell in love with travel. She joined the Peace Corps and went to Ghana, then moved back to Vermont. Her next job led to trips to research the Chinese art trade and help to open a gallery in New York City. She loved going to China!

Soon she found a job as a tour director — mostly in China, and sometimes other countries: Russia, Spain. China was her specialty. Soon she was studying and speaking Chinese and, in her fifties, discovering a whole new career when most are thinking about retiring. It was a career she did and loved for more than 20 years, and she only stopped when she came back to Vergennes to care for her elderly mother.

In Vergennes, Jeanne participated in the community and created roots. She joined the church choir. She joined Women of Wisdom. She worked in the library. She became an active birder, volunteering for the breeding bird census and joining the Forest & Field Club. She learned Reiki. She sang with Noyana. That community called to her spirit. She started working at the Shelburne Museum, where she made many new friends, including Linda Burden, who was at her side on her last day, along with her daughter, Deborah, on August 28, 2021.

Jeanne has a huge extended family, all of whom planned to gather in New Mexico in 2020 to celebrate her 90th birthday, but COVID-19 thwarted those plans. She had to hang on until she turned 91, this year. She made it there. We had a wonderful time together. She loved our big, sprawling family: her children, their spouses, 12 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren (one more on the way, this year!).

We will gather to remember her at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Vergennes at 11 a.m. on September 11. (Capacity is 50 due to COVID-19. Join online at saintpaulsvergennes.org/services.) In lieu of flowers, we ask you to donate to cancer research.

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