I don’t know if you’ve heard of the Sweet Potato Queens (a series of books about life as an, um, unrestrained Southern Woman), but this is real. The Sweet Potato Queen’s mama died, and she wrote the following for the obit. If you don’t believe me, you can check it out here.
Janice “Jan” Louise Wendt Conner, wife of the late and much lamented John A. Conner of Ethel, Mississippi, died peacefully at the Lake Caroline home of her favorite daughter Jill Conner Browne on Wednesday, September 30, 2009.
Mrs. Conner grew up in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, the daughter of the late Mr. & Mrs. Walter Wendt. As a young woman, her statuesque beauty won her a spot among the models at the John Robert Powers Agency but her mother disapproved of that career and so she became a buyer for the J.L. Hudson stores. During World War II, she and many of her friends worked tirelessly at the USO, where she met the only man she ever really loved, her sailor boy, John Conner.
She became a devoted Southerner by choice when she finally defied the wishes of her mother (who was by all accounts and evidence, the Meanest Woman Who Ever Lived) by marrying and following “that hillbilly” back to Mississippi, where they lived happily until Mr. Conner’s untimely death in 1982, after which Mrs. Conner never gave so much as a thought to another man.
The Conners’ home was a haven for all the children in the surrounding neighborhoods, having a wide-open, fully-stocked kitchen, a refrigerator full of Cokes and the only swimming pool for miles around. (It should be noted that the 20’x 40’, 7 foot deep hole for this pool was personally dug, with picks and shovels, by the two of them. If you’ve ever tried to dig even a small hole in Yazoo clay, the extent of the Conners’ devotion to their children can be extrapolated from that endeavor. It should also be noted that this pool was the pet project of Mrs. Conner and there was no peace for Mr. Conner until it was completed. He might have initially thought that she would be discouraged when she saw firsthand how difficult the digging proved to be—one of the many but more significant times He Was Wrong.)
They were active members of the Alta Woods Presbyterian Church where they, for more than 50 years, provided thousands of cookies as Sunday bribes to the children of the church.
Mrs. Conner’s daughters, the aforementioned Jill and that other one, Judy, were finally sources of pride for Jan as they both became bestselling authors. It did remain a lifelong disappointment to her, however, that neither of them ever chose to pursue the career she would have preferred for them: writing messages for greeting cards.
Both daughters give much credit to their mother for spending countless hours reading to them until they finally started reading for themselves. Mrs. Conner also taught her grandchildren to read and to love it. Blessed be her name for that.
Jan’s only two grandchildren—Trevor Palmer and Bailey Conner Browne—were born 23 years apart; thus, each was able to enjoy the many benefits of being “the only grandchild,” a position both exploited to the fullest and with great felicity to all parties.
Mrs. Conner was well known in her younger years for adopting families in need and browbeating them into prosperity via the many donors she “persuaded” to join the effort and her relentless and most often successful attempts at placing them in gainful employment—often without any particular desire or willingness on their part. She would and often did give “the shirt off her back” to someone; but, if her own didn’t happen to fit the need, she had no qualms about obtaining, by whatever means necessary, the more suitable shirt off someone else’s back. Her daughters dreaded the annual Christmas Flooding of the town of Flowood, knowing that the pantry would be emptied and their own closets would be raided, in support of the victims.
Jan Conner was an advocate of the homeless—be they human or otherwise—long before it became fashionable. She never passed a panhandler without giving him something (along with an admonition to “go eat something”) and she never turned away a hungry creature of any species. She basically, over time, stole the neighbor’s non-descript brown dog, Rascal and was somehow able to elicit from him that, although before moving in with us he had considered himself fortunate to get a dab of dog food now and again, all he truly liked to eat was chicken livers and that furthermore he only liked them fried very brown and crispy. Rascal ate crispy brown chicken livers every day of his 10 years with us. Whenever Jan left town, it was only after giving John strict instructions on How to Cook the Chicken Livers for the Dog, lest he (the dog) suffer in her absence.
To this day, Mrs. Conner’s entire family has an inordinate fondness for Brown Dogs.
Mrs. Conner is widely known as a world traveler as she frequently arranged group trips, which she sometimes guided or at least herded. A most interesting aspect about all of Jan’s travels was her high and constant level of disdain for Other Countries, or at least all of Europe. She did love a cruise, though—any time, anywhere—which accounted for her enjoying 50 or so of them. As much as she disparaged all of Europe, she loved Alaska and anything west of Hawaii. All things Asian were wonderful to her and she made numerous trips to the Far East.
The latter years of her life were spent joyfully at The Waterford on Highland Colony with her many friends, especially the rowdy bunch on the Second Floor North. She declared that living at the Waterford was “like being on a cruise, every day.”
Since 1999, no St. Paddy’s Parade was complete without the lead car carrying “The Queen Mothers of the Sweet Potato Queens®” and while she shared this title with dear friend and fellow Queen Mum, Caroline Hewes of Gulfport, it cannot escape attention that Jan always rode in the front seat.
Jan is survived by the aforementioned favorite daughter, Jill Conner Browne and husband Kyle Jennings, and that other one—Judy Conner Palmer of New Orleans—granddaughter Bailey Conner Browne of Oxford and grandson Trevor Palmer and his wife RuthAnna and their daughter Riley and sons Conner and Mason, of New Orleans.
The family wishes to lovingly thank Barbara Whitehead for her devotion and support to us all and to Marie Fenton of Hospice Ministries for her sensitive care to Jan and to us.
No flowers please, Mrs. Conner was allergic. Because of Jan’s lifelong propensity for taking in strays, be they four-legged or two, she would love for you to make a very generous donation in her name to the only no-kill animal shelter in Rankin County—Animal Rescue Fund of Mississippi, founded by Sweet Potato Queen Elizabeth (Pippa) Jackson, located at 1963 Holly Bush Road, Pelahatchie, Mississippi 39145 or www.arfms.com.
There will be a mercifully brief and joyous Memorial Service on Monday, October 5, 2009, at 5:30 PM, at Wright & Ferguson on Highland Colony Parkway, Ridgeland, followed by Celebration of a Life Beautifully Lived and a Very Fun Reception, until around 7 PM.