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Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Western celebrates life of Jeanne Armstrong

By Katy Cossette

Gone too soon, Jeanne Armstrong was essential to the Western Library system. Family, friends and colleagues were in attendance to celebrate the life of Armstrong at Western’s Old Main Solarium on Thursday.

The memorial was led by Dean of Libraries Mark Greenberg. It began with a selection of chants from Lummi tribal member Robert Eaglebearer, who sang about the life and the strength that a woman gives to her children and the world.

In November 2017, Armstrong passed away after a short illness. She was working at Western almost up until her passing.

Her career as a librarian at Western spanned two decades.

Armstrong spearheaded the fight for open access publishing as well as the creation of an institutional repository at Western.

She had a master’s degree in library science and a doctorate in comparative cultural studies from University of Arizona. She was an editor, writer, translator and researcher.

Family, friends, and colleagues gathered to celebrate the life of Western librarian, Jeanne Armstrong at Western’s Old Main Solarium on Thursday. // Photo by Katy Cossette

Armstrong studied, wrote about and edited texts about numerous cultures. She honed in on cultures deeply affected by human rights issues such as genocide, and specifically researched on Irish and Native American studies.

The first speaker of the evening was Carissa Mansfield, Western libraries communications manager. She spoke on behalf of Judith Freeman, a longtime friend of Armstrong, who was unable to attend the event.

Freeman and Armstrong first met at the University of Arizona in 1991 and remained close friends until Armstrong’s death. They had discussions of retiring together this past August.

“Jeanne Marie Armstrong was never dealt a fair hand and she knew it. She was orphaned three times by her loving father as a toddler and by her mother, first via alcoholism and then by her early death when Jeanne was 16,” Freeman wrote. “Jeanne’s life began with emotional abandonment.”

Mansfield continued reading the letter.

“To compensate perhaps, Jeanne was both gifted and cursed with a stubborn will that was almost unassailable,” Freeman continued. “It was that will, along with her native brilliance for knowledge acquisition and social justice that propelled Jeanne’s every thought and move. She was driven.”

A number of things made Armstrong easily distinguishable from her peers, but the most notable was the extent to which she had compassion for those who needed help.

“It was that will, along with her native brilliance for knowledge acquisition and social justice that propelled Jeanne’s every thought and move. She was driven.”

JUDITH FREEMAN, FRIEND OF ARMSTRONG

“Jeanne never separated herself from the struggle,” Freeman wrote.

Freeman recounted Armstrong’s strength and perseverance throughout her letter.

“From the moment she accepted the position at Western, Jeanne thrust herself into the thorniest of issues, which she exposed time and again as blatantly sexist,” Freeman said. “And time and again, she suffered heavily for her unyielding stance.”

The chants resonated with the theme of the night, which would soon reveal itself as the strength of a woman. Following the musical intro, there were a handful of speakers.

Sandra Alfers, professor of German and the director of the Ray Wolpow Institute for the Study of the Holocaust, Genocide, and Crimes Against Humanity served on the committee with Armstrong that helped establish the institute at Western.

“She was fierce, and she was a real passionate advocate for the studies,” Alfers said.

A display shows photos of Jeanne Armstrong, librarian at Western who passed on November, 2017 after a short illness, also pictured are several novels she edited. // Photo by Katy Cossette

English professor Kathleen Lundeen knew Armstrong through the English Department Library. She worked closely with Armstrong when she needed help tracking down materials relating to selected female authors of the English Romantic period.

“When I worked with her one-on-one, I realized how extremely capable she was as a librarian and what a treasure she was at Western. She had a very full and productive career,” Lundeen said.

Remarks prepared by longtime friend Harry Jantry were read by Sarah McDaniels, director of teaching and learning in Western Libraries.

“The last time I saw Jeanne was in August, when she came to Tucson for a visit. We spent that weekend visiting former haunts. Best of all, we went to a blues club, that is my most enduring and cherished memory of that visit. Jeanne, dancing deliriously on a crowded, sweaty dance floor, feeling the vibe, lost in the music; free. Now she is truly free. She will be missed.”

The event was closed with Gaelic song and Irish spoken word by two musicians who knew Armstrong personally.

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