Obituary written for the Jewish Chronicle by Lydia Drukarz
Born Glossop, 4th April 1944.
Died London, 2nd November 2014, aged 71
Jean Etherton dedicated the last 20 years of her life to B’nai B’rith UK. She served as National President and then Honorary Life President. She was born in the small mill town of Glossop in Derbyshire in 1944. Her parents, Lotte and Desiderius Spitz, were refugees from the Anschluss in Austria and found a safe haven in Glossop where they were offered work and acceptance.
The Quakers facilitated Lotte’s escape from Austria by arranging a work permit for her to come to the UK and become a maid at their school in Glossop; they later organised for her husband Desiderius to come over and work as a gardener. Without this lifeline, neither would have had permission to enter or remain in England. Jean attended the local grammar school where she excelled and soon became head girl. Her teachers were always full of praise for her diligence and intellect.
When she left school, she went to study pure chemistry at Battersea College, which was part of London University. Battersea was also a College of Advanced Technology, which was where she met her future husband, Tony Etherton, who was studying electrical engineering. They both joined the Jewish Society. They married in 1965, after Jean returned from working in the laboratory of a paper mill in Hadera in Israel.
Initially, they lived in Golders Green and Jean worked as a patent researcher for the Distillers Company. Soon, her husband started his own business and they moved to Stanmore and started a family. Jean loved working and even when she was in the maternity ward at Edgware Hospital, she was preparing patent abstracts. Their daughter, Jennifer arrived and not long after, their son Michael. Even motherhood didn’t prevent Jean’s enduring thirst for knowledge and she enrolled on a post-graduate course in Information Technology.
Once both children were at school, Jean became head of the library and information department at the prestigious Institute of Petroleum. This was a job she loved and worked hard to develop. It is a credit to Jean that her former boss, the Senior Executive of the Institute, attended her funeral.
As her husband’s business developed, the family were able to move house until they ended up at a beautiful house in Stanmore. But Jean was never ambitious: she was always a woman who was contented and satisfied with her lot.
As their children grew up, the Ethertons became involved with and supported their synagogue, Edgware & District Reform Synagogue and, for many years, immersed themselves in the shul’s Israel Group at a time when Israel was still a pioneering country. Later on, Jean also took responsibility for the shul’s library.
The rabbi of the synagogue, the late Michael Leigh, became the first president of a new B’nai B’rith Lodge called Yitzchak Rabin and Jean and Tony followed him into the Lodge. Initially, they were just members but gradually Jean’s talents shone through and she went on to become president of the Lodge and finally President of the entire B’nai B’rith movement in the UK.
Jean was a woman who enjoyed life and all it offered but she was always happy and satisfied with what she had. She was admired for her integrity and dedication and, as a testament to that, the family received condolences from people all around the world whose lives Jean touched.
Jean believed with all her heart in the three founding principles of B’nai B’rith and how it improves people’s lives all over the world. She contributed to and led many B’nai B’rith UK fundraising initiatives and events, including the Young Jewish Adult Forum, which she organised with superb efficiency in November 2012. Jean was passionate about the next generation of B’nai B’rith UK and wanted to ensure its continuity. She was keen to bring more people in their 30s, 40s and 50s into the organisation, so she set up a group – BB 2545 – and organised events with speakers across a range of fascinating subjects.
For Jean, B’nai B’rith was an organisation which embraced Jews from all walks of life and all levels of observance. She enjoyed and excelled in raising money for and being involved in BBUK’s charities and projects in Israel and in the Ukraine.
She was at work not long before she died on a report on a recent B’nai B’rith trip to Israel that she had enjoyed so much with her husband Tony and fellow B’nai B’rith members.
Jean was working on this report when she developed a sudden and unexpected brain haemorrhage. Within a few hours, this bright and lovely woman had tragically passed away. Jean was a radiant woman who enjoyed every moment of life to the fullest. Her departure leaves a hole in the life of her family.
She is survived by her husband Tony, children Jennifer and Michael, brother John and her grandchildren Tal and Ben.