Obituary: Jean Gilmore Curtis / Go-getter known for positivity, reaching out to 'countless' others
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Jean Gilmore Curtis was a "selfless go-getter" who never made excuses or let her age stop her from pursuing the things she wanted in life.
At the age of 60, she earned a master's degree, but her pursuit of learning didn't stop there.
"When she was in her 70s, she learned Spanish," remembered her daughter, Beverly Curtis.
Mrs. Gilmore Curtis was surrounded by her daughter and her three other children when she died Tuesday after a long battle with congestive heart failure. She was 89.
Even in the last days of her life -- when she was under hospice care, weakened and eating little -- she told visitors she was "doing just fine," Ms. Curtis said.
"She was an extraordinary person," said Ms. Curtis, 56, of Gettysburg. "She never complained -- ever."
Mrs. Gilmore Curtis is remembered as much for her caring disposition as for her fearless zest for life by family members.
"She was very gentle, but beneath the gentleness was a spine of iron," said her son, Byron Gilmore Curtis, a Presbyterian minister and professor at Geneva College.
Mrs. Gilmore Curtis was attending Juniata College, near Altoona, when World War II broke out; she left college and volunteered for the Navy as part of Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, called WAVES.
After the war, Mrs. Gilmore Curtis stayed active with the organization, heading its state and regional office.
Her work with WAVES marked her first foray into volunteerism, for which she became known for tireless work with dozens of organizations, churches and groups.
She met her husband, Marine Robert E. Curtis, at the Marine base on Parris Island, N.C., and the pair married Oct. 7, 1945, when both were deployed to Hawaii. They were married for 64 years before Mr. Curtis' death in 2010.
After the war, the couple enrolled at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., where he earned a degree in industrial engineering, while she earned a degree in home economics and dietetics.
In 1962, the family moved to Penn Hills, where Mr. Curtis had been transferred for a job. The couple raised two sons and two daughters and lived in the home for 43 years before moving to Seneca Hills Village in Verona seven years ago.
After her husband's death, Mrs. Gilmore Curtis enjoyed a "special friendship," according to her family, with fellow Seneca Hills Village resident and widower Melvin Brown, who survives.
"They fell in love," said Rev. Curtis, 58, of Beaver Falls. "It was so beautiful to see such a lovely romance in their old age."
Along with biological relatives, Mrs. Gilmore Curtis was a mother and grandmother figure to a number of foreign exchange students the family hosted over the years.
Among them was the Rev. Aino-Karen Loven, a Lutheran minister from Helsinki, Finland, who remembers her "American mother" fondly.
"She was a splendid lady," Rev. Loven said. "She was open and she had a good heart and a lot of wisdom."
Rev. Loven stayed with the Curtis family in 1973, when she was 17 years old, and she has returned several times to visit. The family also has visited her in Finland over the years.
One of her fondest memories of Mrs. Gilmore Curtis was her advice to the very shy young woman.
"She said, 'Aino, smile!' and that was a very powerful way to give me confidence and open doors," she said.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Mrs. Gilmore Curtis worked as a long-term substitute home economics teacher in New Jersey and for the Penn Hills school system.
After that, Mrs. Gilmore Curtis spent 12 years working for the Allegheny County Health Department, where she served as a nutrition counselor for young mothers.
She decided to go back to school when her husband lost his job in the 1970s.
"It got Mom thinking about economic security," Rev. Curtis said. "Learning has always been prized by my parents."
Mrs. Gilmore Curtis earned her master's degree from the University of Pittsburgh in nutrition and adult health in 1983 and volunteered as a counselor at a teen pregnancy clinic.
She also volunteered with the Girl Scouts for 20 years and was ordained a deaconess at Beulah Presbyterian Church in Churchill, where she served as a Sunday school teacher "for at least 50 years," her son said.
Even in the last months of her life, Ms. Curtis said her mother was busy repairing clothes for a veterans group and sewing bags for people in wheelchairs.
In October, Mrs. Gilmore Curtis was recognized by UPMC as a "Good Neighbor Champion" for touching "the lives of countless individuals throughout her life." She lugged her oxygen tank and tubes onto a stage to accept the award.
But, it was her quiet grace, even in the face of death, that her family will remember most.
"She was very, very steady," Rev. Curtis said. "She had a powerful moral compass in her that she followed on how to treat people right, and she lived by that. She treated people with kindness."
In addition to her children Beverly and Byron, Mrs. Gilmore Curtis is survived by son Bruce Robert Curtis of Ann Arbor, Mich., and daughter Barbara Curtis Simon of Swissvale; a brother, Roger Gilmore of Portland, Maine; and 10 grandchildren; and five great-granddaughters.
The family is hosting a memorial service and luncheon at 1 p.m. March 23, with visitation beginning at noon at Beulah Presbyterian Church, 2500 McCrady Road.
First Published March 11, 2013 12:00 am