In the spirit of Mother’s Day in South Africa, my first Wonderful Woman feature is that of my amazing mother Jeanne Shepherd-Cowling.
In 1942, John and Mary Gardner were struggling as most families with making ends meet during war time. They were living in Rhodesia then. John was in the army and Mary was looking after her son Basil. Mary was due to have her second child. Jeanne Margaret was born on 29 February of 1942. A leap year. Time and life moved the family. Listening to the family stories, I am amazed at how the words “strong”; “persistence”; “resilience” have dominated our family. Mary’s life was testimony to these words, battling major illnesses; being far from her home and family and raising three children in numerous places, some in the hottest and driest areas of South Africa.
Jeanne started her journey as a wonderful woman alongside her brother Basil and sister Verity. She started school at the age of four because her mom was very ill and she did not want to be parted from her brother. She learnt at a young age how to be confident, stand up for herself and work hard. Jeanne taught herself how to sew because the latest and newest clothes were not a possibility for her family. Jeanne and Basil matriculated with honors. An incredible achievement for Women at that time. She studied nursing in Port Elizabeth and did her practical service in Johannesburg at the Queen Vic Hospital – she was 19 at the time. Leaving the small town for the big city of Johannesburg. It was in this city that she met Jack van Niftrik; got married and started her own family.
Jeanne learnt to be resourceful – a Gardner family trait. She learnt many skills such as carpentry; brick laying and how to service her motor car. Learning how to do things well and to the best of her ability has always been a source of enjoyment and accomplishment for Jeanne. Jeanne left nursing to look after her children and run the home. In 1980 Jeanne and Jack divorced. Jeanne dedicated her time to ensuring that she could provide for herself and her children. She went back to studying Financial Management and achieved her Estate Agent Certification, and Financial Management Qualification. She worked part time in Accounting and later became the Financial Manager of a Pharmaceutical company.
April 1995, Jeanne was driving home from work – she was turning out of the office park and onto the main road in Kew, Johannesburg. Two young men jumped out of truck. She was aware that one had a gun and was approaching her car. He asked her to get out. As she moved to unlock her seat-belt the young man pulled the trigger of the gun. Jeanne was shot in the face. The bullet hit her on the right temple, missing her brain by millimeters, went through her right eye and out her left tear duct.
In the hospital the next day when I visited her, Jeanne said to me that this would not stop her. She was determined that if she was blind that she would learn braille. She did loose sight in her right eye and has 10% sight in her left eye. She was assisted by the blind association of South Africa to use a cane/stick when walking. Jeanne now walks unaided everywhere. One of my family’s fondest memories was when she walked up the Cone at Little Switzerland Resort.
Undeterred by the shooting, Mom dove into painting. She had a love for fine art painting as longs as I can remember. She taught me the appreciation and love for art. Jeanne had always wanted to study fine art and had begun on the journey through Unisa in 1980. This she had put on hold. After the shooting, Mom begun in earnest to continue the pursuit of her love for painting. She started water color painting and set herself the goal to become a fellow of the Water Colo
r Society of South Africa. The criteria for a fellowship is grueling to say the least – hours of discipline and dedication to your craft is required. You also have to learn from and accept critique and mentorship from others.
Jeanne’s determination and focus on excellence have driven her. Not starting anything new until she has completed a task. Doing her best at all times even she does not feel like. Jeanne is also a deeply spiritual and faith filled woman. Her faith is what she says keeps her achieving success. Jeanne applies the same level of commitment to her faith and service of others as she does to all she sets her mind on. Jeanne inspires others to faith. Jeanne loves prayer and reflection. A remarkable woman – gifted with grace to forgive and demonstrate forgiveness.
Please take a moment to visit her website which displays her beautiful works of art.
View the art as a pictorial journal of her growth. You can see her journey from her earlier work to the art she paints today. Jeanne is now also painting in acrylic and her work continues to astound and amaze me. For every painting Jeanne will take numerous photographs. Her photographic skills are truly amazing – using only 10% sight. She sews too. Her latest work was Gabriella’s matric dance gown.
A wonderful woman – Happy Mother’s day Jeanne Shepherd-Cowling.