Obituary of Jean Marie Harris
Jean Marie Harris was born on October 13, 1918 in Cleveland Ohio, and passed away on December 3rd, 2020 in Saint Augustine Florida. She was the daughter of Michael and Louisa Cannarozzi who immigrated from Southern Italy in the early 1900s. She had six brothers and two sisters and was the oldest sister who became the surrogate mother to her younger brothers.
After school, Jean’s mother handed over her younger brothers so she could work in the family’s grocery store. Often she would take her brother’s buggy to the baseball field, push it aside, play ball and was so pleased about never getting caught. One of Jean’s favorite stories was describing how she entertained herself with only one roller skate. Owning a grocery store, her family was never in want of food and provided for many of their neighbors who were less fortunate. Her brothers played high school and college football with Jean bring their biggest fan.
In high school Jean was active in sports, loved French class and aspired to become a French teacher. Her dream of studying French was too costly for the family, but nursing school was a reality and Jean embraced the opportunity, graduating in 1942. She wanted to enlist in the armed services, but with tears in her eyes her mother begged her to stay home as her brothers were serving in the war. And she did, working at Glenville Hospital in Cleveland until she decided to move to Newport, Rhode Island where brother Nicky was a proprietor of an Italian restaurant. There she fell in love with Charlie who was stationed in Newport serving as Navy Chief. They were married and their first child Frank arrived later that year and 13 months later, a daughter Kathy, followed by Mike 18 months later. If that wasn’t enough, the family of five with three children below the age of four travelled by automobile cross country to Chico, California. In Chico she was the wife of a Navy Recruiter, mother of three young, active children and learned to drive their 1956 Belair Chevy which they would ride to Oregon to visit Charlie’s family.
Once again the Navy transferred Charlie, this time to Norfolk Virginia and once again they drove across the country with a 5, 6 and 3 year old. Charlie served on the Orion and the family lived in Navy housing which Jean detested, but loved her neighbors. She became active in the Navy Wives Association until Charlie retired in 1960.
The next move was to Satellite Beach,Florida where the family built a house as there was no housing available with the space industry in its incubation years. Charlie worked at the Tech Lab fabricating lens that would be placed in the rockets. The family’s home of 37 years was on Park Avenue. Jean loved her neighbors and and their children. Her morning routine was reading the newspaper, drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes and then having her young neighbors arrive with their young children which served as their outlet to chat, smoke and get advice from Jean before their husbands returned from work. Jean’s secret to making the house look nice was to the clear the table, spray lemon scented Pledge and polish, and presto the house was clean. Jean was always available to give medical advice, shots and apply bandages for her neighbors. Eventually her sister Rita and her family moved a block away, followed by her parents who also lived on the same block. Family was an important part of Jean’s life and family gatherings, whether it be pancakes for all on Saturday morning, making raviolis with her parents, caring for them in their old age, and helping her sister were a central in her life.
There was never a table too short to have an extra guest or two or three, as Jean would never want anyone to be alone on a holiday. She might have to make more pasta, add tomato paste and water to the sauce, but everyone had plenty to eat Her home was always open to friends and strangers alike.
Jean took an active part in her children’s education and worked in the school clinic. She was a founding member of Holy Name of Jesus Church, which met for mass in an empty house in Indian Harbour Beach. She loved John F. Kennedy, campaigned for George McGovern and was lifelong Democrat. These were the best days of her life.
After the children graduated from high school, Jean returned to nursing after a 25 year hiatus and found that things had indeed changed in the world of nursing. She persevered. Night owl Jean worked the 3-11 shift at what is now Holmes Regional Hospital. She entertained us with so many stories of her nursing experience from the mustard plaster that she feared would burn her patient in pre-antibiotic days, to her being the best catheterizer, and how she was able to give a great shot.
After Charlie retired in 1978, it was time for this couple to see the world. They travelled to Europe where Jean used her French to strike up conversations wherever possible. On a New York City bus she would become acquainted with everyone in the front of the bus before she arrived at her destination. In San Francisco’s Chinatown she didn’t hesitate to ask someone on the street for directions to the best Chinese restaurant who just happened to own the restaurant. They cruised the Caribbean Sea and danced the night away at their nieces and nephews weddings.
Many good times followed as Jean and Charlie became grandparents times three, Jasmine, the only grandchild for 8 years, formed many special memories with Jean and Charlie. She entertained them with nursery rhymes, gymnastics, and songs, and Jean entertained Jasmine by rollerskating with her at local roller rink at age 80.
In the mid-90’s Jean and Charlie left their beloved home in Satellite Beach, filled with memories, moving to Melbourne Beach 10 miles down the road. My mother never missed a place as much as Park Avenue in Satellite Beach. In her new home she was close to her son, Mike and wife Jeannette and their children, Christopher and Wesley. Only a 5 minute drive from their home, Jean visited often with her grandchildren who she encouraged to do their best, helped with babysitting, transported them from school, and most always shared a Sunday night dinner.
Her favorite activities in the Melbourne Beach era of her life were strolling down the Melbourne Beach Pier where she became acquainted with anyone that would look her way. There, she met people from all over the world and became a fixture on the pier. In her spare time she would make pillowcases from old sheets—what throw away a good sheet just because it was full of holes? And let’s not forget about her cooking. It wasn’t a meal unless it was accompanied by a tossed salad with oil and vinegar dressing with just the right amount of salt, pepper and garlic powder, and if it was too salty, then throw in some water. She never bragged about her fabulous cooking, but apologized for it being overdone, underdone, too cold, too hot, not enough salt, too much salt — nor did she sit at the table with her guests until they insisted she take a seat and stop working. She was a great cook and never stopped learning new techniques which she passed on to her children and granddaughter.
Jean ran a great house and loved to keep it squeaky clean and used bleach so much that all of her work blouses were filled with splotches of white and there was a trail from her washing machine to her kitchen on the carpet of white dots. Disinfecting everything was something she had learned in nursing school. I called her Clean Jean.
She wasn’t just an avid reader of the newspaper, but an avid reader of the paper aloud to anybody even if they weren’t listening. Often, she would say, “I read an article” and would tell us about or send articles to others in the mail. We will miss those articles.
Jean was a dedicated member of her church, Holy Name of Jesus, which she attended regularly and was regularly late for mass so she could avoid the traffic. She loved to sing hymns in her strong soprano voice and shared with us the comments of others who remarked about her beautiful voice. And she shared all of the jokes and fun stories told by her favorite priest, Father Page. After church she volunteered in the gift shop helping customers and giving marital advice to random shoppers. Following shop duty she and the church ladies Edie,who happened to be her little sister from nursing school and her oldest friend, Micky, Nelda and others would head to McDonalds for coffee and an apple pie where Jean would pocket packages of cream in her purse.
Charlie left Jean for the high seas of heaven in 2000 and Jean shared her home with her son Frank who filled her life with companionship and excitement. There was never a dull moment at 525 Avenue B. With Frank playing guitar and Jean singing opera, they complimented each other. She and Frank loved to cook and regularly shopped at the commissary where Jean gave expired and bogus coupons to the cashiers who knew and loved her. Just as her parents helped the less fortunate with gifts of food, Jean kept a bag by the door at all times filled with cans and packages of food that she would donate to the needy.
Even without Charlie, Jean’s life was destined to be filled with adventures with her family. A memorable trip to Italy with her daughter, Kathy, son in law Herbie and granddaughter, Jasmine found her rolling in a wheelchair through the Roman ruins and being lifted over the bridges in Venice. Finally, with wheelchair tied to the top of the car they made way for Carpino, Italy, her father’s ancestral home where she climbed the stone stairs to her cousin’s house at age 88 and in need of a hip replacement. Here, she was the only one in the group who spoke Italian and English and became the translator. It was a wonderful experience, but an exhausting one for the lady who was never tired. Later, with a new hip, she travelled to Sicily at age 92 where she met a waiter who— in awe of a woman of her age who had travelled so far—touched her for good luck.
No one can talk about Jean without mentioning her hair. As she would tell it, she was cursed with frizzy curly hair that never behaved. Is my hair alright? How’s the back? Is that bald spot covered? Frequently, she could be seen with a curler in the front of hair which would be removed before reaching her final destination. She colored and set her her hair with rollers on her own until she was 99, when she decided it was OK to go grey.
Jean continued to drive until she was 98, but as a passenger she never let us forget how to get to where we were going without her precise directions, advice when to put on brakes, when to use the turn signal and when to switch lanes. And most importantly before any ride she would insist on riding in the backseat, despite having a broken neck, broken ankle, broken arm or broken hand because it is important that a husband and wife always sit together.
Jean’s last days were spent in St. Augustine at Symphony Memory Care where was she was the resident diva. She celebrated her 102nd birthday with her new friends, looking stunning, dressed to kill, with and make-up like a movie star. Later, her St. Augustine friends visited her with yet another cake, tiera and sash. Jean told her friends Sue and Sheri that this was the best birthday of her life.
Jean will soon take her last ride to Florida Memorial Gardens to lie beside her parents, Mike and Louisa and her husband, Charlie. She will be missed by so many and we thank her for staying with us and taking such good care of us for 102 years. She has left us with so many good memories and words of wisdom.
When asked the secret of a long life, her answer was “keep moving”. Now, it is time for her to rest with loved ones and together with Charlie riding in the front seat.
She will not go silently as we know she will be giving directions and singing opera in her lovely soprano voice.To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of Jean Harris, please visit Tribute Store