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Emerson Remembers Jean Peckham, a ‘Rock’ for Students and Family

black and white photo of Jim and Jean Peckham in front of hedge
Jim and Jean Peckham, in an undated photo. Courtesy of Emerson College Archives

5/18/22 Update: A Celebration of Life for Jean Peckham will be held Saturday, July 16, 2022, from 11:00 am to 3:00 pm, at the Puritan Backroom Restaurant, 245 Hooksett Road, Manchester, New Hampshire. The Emerson family is invited to share their memories and stories of Jean.

Jean Peckham, one half of Emerson’s athletic department from the early 1970s to the early 1990s, steadfast teammate to the other half, her husband, Jim Peckham, and friend to an entire generation of students, faculty, and staff died December 22, 2021 in Maryland. She was 92.

“Her warmth, grace, and example spread her influence across the College, far beyond her core role as business manager for Athletics,” said Interim President William Gilligan, who was a colleague of the Peckhams for a decade, starting in the early 1980s.

Jean, a graduate of Burdette Business School, went in to the athletic department to help out for a couple of months after the student assistant left and ended up staying for two decades, her daughter, Diana Peckham said.

“I just think it was because she and my father were a team,” Diana said.

Alongside Jim, a longtime Emerson athletic director and an Olympic wrestling coach, Jean kept the department running smoothly, while also making the student athletes who streamed in feel like family.

“If Dad wasn’t in, they’d sit and talk to ‘Mrs. Peckham’ because she always had a cookie jar for them,” Diana said.

Jean also was instrumental in Earning the Right to Win, a wrestling camp she and Jim ran out of their Weymouth home. For 24 years, over 10 weeks each summer, Jean would cook for 16 boys and coaches.

“Jim and his ‘bride’ Jean, as he always referred to her, were always there for so many of us,” recalled Chris O’Callahan ’75, a multi-sport athlete while at Emerson and a member of Rho Delta Omega, a fraternity Jim advised. “Be it a nutritious meal or an opportunity to talk, just being around them brought an osmosis of character, commitment, and love.”

Jean and Jim met at a dance in Quincy, Massachusetts in August 1950. Two or three weeks later, Jean was activated to Camp Pendleton, California, processing AWOL Marines. The two kept up a “fast and furious” courtship via the U.S. Postal Service, with Jim listing reasons they should get married, then listing reasons they shouldn’t, Diana said.

In January 1951, five months after they met, they married, and were together for 60 years, until Jim died in 2011.

Diana described her mother, the daughter of Glaswegian immigrants, as “reticent, but a keen observer.”

“She shied away from the limelight, she let the limelight go to Dad, but everyone knew she was the rock on which everyone relied,” she said.

In addition to Diana, Jean leaves a son, Matthew; four grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren; and “son-of-the-heart” Rod Buttry, according to her obituary.

Her great-granddaughter’s middle name is Emerson, in honor of Jean and Jim, Diana said.

A celebration of life will be held in New Hampshire at a later date.

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