WAYLAND: Jean Bates Pratt was legally blind at the end of her life but never stopped buying books. When she died in her Wayland home on January 16, at age 101, she was surrounded by a lifetime of reading – testimony to a lifetime of learning. She may not have been able to see the printed page, but her mind was ever open to new ideas, and friends read aloud to her right up to her last day.
She remained an enthusiastic member of her book group and, less than a week before she died, was collecting titles for the club’s future reading. She was adamant about staying on top of current events and had visitors read her newspapers and magazines, including The Economist, The New York Times, and The Wayland Town Crier. “Read me the whole thing,” she’d say. “Don’t skip around.”
Her philosophy for living, printed on bookmarks handed out at her 100th birthday party in 2018, was this: “Live, Love, Listen, and Learn with an Open Heart and a Positive Attitude.” For her 101st birthday last August she rode the Paragon Carousel in Nantasket Beach with family and friends. She insisted on riding a “jumper,” not a stationary horse, and she said the ride seemed slower than it had been when she was a kid.
Born in Cohasset, MA on August 17, 1918 (two years before women had the right to vote), Jean lived in a time of dizzying cultural and political change, but she was determined to keep up through travel, courses, and her curiosity about everything. She moved around the country with her husband, John J. Pratt Jr., as he did academic and government work in entomology. She embraced the opportunity to explore life in North Carolina, Florida, California, Maryland, and New York. She and John moved to Wayland in 1954 when he took a job with Natick Labs. John died in 2001.
Jean joined the League of Women Voters the year she moved to Wayland and that involvement sparked a passion for research. She spent 9 years digging through the fine print of town records to codify Wayland’s by-laws. She served on the Zoning Board of Appeals, Zoning By-law Committee, Charter Commission, and Town Meeting Procedures Committee. As a tip of the hat for her service, the town named her to the honorary post of Surveyor of Lumber, which she held until 2018.
Her work caught wider attention last year when she was one of 131 women invited to the State House in Boston to be recognized as “Unsung Heroines of Massachusetts.” The award is sponsored by the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women and Jean was nominated by her state representative, Carmine Gentile.
Jean was a member of the First Parish in Wayland where she served as parish clerk and helped organize rummage sales. In December, 2016, at age 98 she stood in front of the Islamic Center in town with fellow parishioners and hundreds of people from all faiths to protest hate mail sent to the center.
Reflecting on her life a few months after her 100th birthday, Jean said, “I know it’s time for me to go, but I’m still curious.”
She is survived by daughter Judith and son-in-law, Tom Bruce, of Ithaca NY; daughter Joanna and son-in-law, Steve Samuels, of Washington DC; and grandchildren Evan Samuels of Washington DC and Vanessa Cheshier of Centreville VA.
A celebration of her life will be held later this year.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in her memory to the League of Women Voters of Wayland (LWVW, PO Box 9, Wayland, MA 01778), the Sudbury Valley Trustees (https://www.svtweb.org/), the Children’s Defense Fund (http://www.childrensdefense.org/), or your favorite community music or arts program.