The Passing of A Crochet Legend

It is with terrible sadness that I am speaking now.  Earlier today marked the passing of  a wonderful friend, Jean Leinhauser.

It will not be her status as legendary crafting-crochet-publishing-icon-empress that I’ll be thinking about today.  Neither will I dwell on the awesome empty place she leaves in the crochet firmament.  Nor should I speak with regret on behalf of the Crochet Guild of America that Jean will not be at the CGOA Chain Link Conference next month to be inducted into the Crochet Hall of Fame.  Why did we wait so long to extend her that honor?  Hey, never mind that last bit.  I said no regrets, didn’t I?

Rather, I will be bravely grinning broadly.  Perverse, you might judge me.  But if you knew Jean you’d totally understand.

I met Empress Jean in 2004, at my first CGOA Chain Link conference, held that summer in Manchester, New Hampshire.  Jean and her publishing business partner Rita Weiss (the Other Legend!) were scouting crochet design talent for their latest publishing venture, Crochet Partners.  My crochet career had just begun the year before with not much to show.  This would be my first time meeting editors and publishers and hawking my wares.  I had arranged an appointment with Jean and Rita and brought along a sack full of my crochet pieces, hopeful of finding a slot in one of their future books.  Yes, I was pretty cocky.

I  was mightily afraid of both of these women, as their reputations were so huge.  I arrived at the appointed time and waited in the conference hotel lobby for a good while, expecting to be met and shepherded into a meeting room or something.  Anxious and horrified that maybe I had messed up the schedule and missed my slot, I started pacing around and around.

It was Jean I spotted first, seated in one of the high-backed upholstered chairs in the lounge area adjacent to the lobby, backlit by the hotel’s entrance windows, holding court.  Yes, it was as though the entire room was at her feet, paying court.  I think I scurried over, introduced myself as the two o’clock appointment and sat down.  I also think I burbled a lot.

Jean was actually immediately warm and welcoming, but that’s not how it seemed to me in the moment in my petrified state.  She had a way of peering at you over the tops of her glasses with a stern, piercing stare.  Even though her face was smiling and kind, her eyes were always keen and observant, ever watching you, know what I’m saying?

Of the two, Rita presented the bigger personality, the glibber tongue, the louder voice.  Jean appeared to be the more reserved, but in retrospect that’s only because everybody seems reserved next to Rita. I answered a few questions from the ladies, then pulled my stuff out of the bag for them to examine. Eventually I reached the bottom of the bag, where I had these Hat Heads.

Without hesitation, Jean snatched up the lot and pulled them onto her own head.  At the time I thought that the whole world had busted out laughing at the absurdity.  Maybe it was only me and Jean laughing out loud.  From that point on, I knew I had found a kindred crochet spirit.

Jean and I would cross paths many times from that day.  Here we are at the 2006 CGOA Chain Link conference, with Jean at the center.

Clockwise from me at 9 o’clock, that’s Tammy Hildebrand (before her hair was orange), Jean Leinhauser, Vashti Braha (before contacts), Rita Weiss with her head turned away, and Marty Miller (most recent past President of the CGOA Board of Directors).  That was some power lunch!  As  you can see, I am not actually having lunch with them.  I sort of wandered over with my coffee and was allowed to sit down.  I can’t for the life of me recall who took this shot.

From 2008 through 2010 I called Jean my “Center Square” of the Crochet Design Competition.  Her steady guidance, discerning eye and impeccable taste made her the perfect anchor on the judging panel for three years.  Funny, she must have known she wouldn’t be available to fill the center square for the 2011 Competition this September because she asked me to find another judge. Lord I will miss her.

But I am smiling right now about one of the last moments I shared with her.  At the close of the 2010 Chain Link event, the last thing she said to me, peering down at my mismatched high-top Chucks and chuckling, was “You are so adorable!”.

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14 thoughts on “The Passing of A Crochet Legend

  1. I was in the same room with Jean once or twice, but we never met in person. We did exchange a few emails over the years. Still, the crochet world will miss her. Clearly she is an example of an excellent and progressive business-woman and leader in addition to being a creative force in the industry. I’m sorry for your loss.

  2. A truly beautiful tribute Doris! I met Jean once at my first Chainlink conference. I spent quite a bit of time chatting with her and Rita at their booth – they made me laugh so hard when they relayed the backstories of the patterns in one of the books I was browsing. I bought the book and made a beautiful baby sweater for my second daughter. There is definitely a big hole in our community today. Thank you Jean – for everything!

  3. Doris wrote “Even though her face was smiling and kind, her eyes were always keen and observant, ever watching you, know what I’m saying?”

    I always felt that Jean was not waiting for her turn to talk, or thinking about what she’d say next. She was honestly listening to what we had to say. While we were eager to learn as much as we could from her, she was intent to learn what she could from us as well.

    We will miss her.

  4. You had me laughing writing about those silly hats. That was such a very fun day! How I wish we had gotten pictures of Jean and Rita wearing them!
    I stayed smiling and strong until I scrolled down and saw our picture all together. I’m going to miss her so much. She always made me laugh. Thanks for writing a beautiful story my friend.

  5. What a beautiful tribute Doris! The world has not just lost a crochet legend, but a truly wonderful woman. I never got to meet her in person, but had many email conversations with her on Crochet Partners (the yahoo group & before). If it weren’t for this lovely woman, I wouldn’t have learned 90% of what I have about crochet. She was kind, caring, giving, & will be missed by many.

    Doris, when we do finally meet up, we’re going to have to have that drink in memory of Jean.

  6. Oh, Doris. It’s not perverse to smile when we think of our friends and love ones who are gone. They wanted to bring joy when they were among us, and if they see us at all, they must be delighted that we can still feel their joy even as we ache for them.

    I’m always delighted that I’ve met Doris Chan. It still blows me away that when I speak to her, she’s not only friendly but knows who I am. As always, it was great to see you at TNNA however briefly at the front door of Riggby’s, but (God forbid) when you go, won’t you want us to smile… to laugh even… when we think of you? You and Jean have years of making people smile… bringing people joy and fulfillment not only through your work but through your lives. Why would we let death stop that? I vote we don’t.

    Hugs, sweetheart. Know that you’re loved.

  7. A lovely tribute – all of the crochet community has a hole that will not be filled. I do wish I would have been able to see both Jean and Rita wearing those crochet hat heads!

    Keep on mismatching the sneakers, Doris. 🙂

  8. What a lovely tribute to such a crochet Icon. Thank you for posting about her passing and for sharing your memories. I believe she will be greatly missed for a very long time.
    (((Hugs to you.)))

  9. Pingback: Mid-June Crochet Link Love Bonanza | Crochet Concupiscence

  10. I lament the loss of your lovely friend. A beautiful tribute, indeed.

    Doris, I have a quick question for you. I just purchased your Cat’s Cradle Lace Topper pattern over the Internet. I was inspired by the top you’re wearing in the photo of your latest blog entry.

    While reading over the pattern instructions, I noticed an error, and I hope you can clear things up for me. The pattern gives a guage for a J and K hook. Then it says that the size “small” requires an H hook, but doesn’t say the guage. Please can you give me the guage for the H hook? I want to make the size “small.”

    Thanks. I look forward to your reply.

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