Obituary: Jeannette P. Duke, 87

Jeannette P. Duke died Sunday, December 13, at home at Meadow Ridge in Redding, after a long illness.

Born on January 6, 1928, in Oxford, N.C., Jeannette was the daughter of Benjamin Wingate Parham and Katherine Campbell Johnson Parham.

Jeannette and her husband, Robert D. Duke, who predeceased her in October of 2014, moved to Wilton from New York City in 1974, leaving an apartment on Washington Square and a weekend home in Lakeville, CT. For nearly forty years Jeannette and Bob lived at 67 Ridgefield Road in a rambling old house that Jeannette loved dearly and where there was plenty of elbow room for her four idiosyncratic children to cohabit with a minimum of drama. Jeannette reared her two sons and two daughters with unfailing love, deep empathy, and a great sense of humor, the last of which was surely indispensable.

Jeannette was a passionate gardener who favored the classic English style of Gertrude Jekyll; even in the later stages of her illness Jeannette was drawn irresistibly outside in the warmer months, making the rounds of her flowerbeds on a red electric scooter and giving instruction to others when her own hands could no longer lift a trowel.

The Wilton house gave Jeannette a place to indulge two other passions: reading and entertaining. An only child, Jeannette had learned to consider books her playmates and companions, and she was never to be found without a novel within easy reach (although in a pinch she could be satisfied with making quick work of the Times crossword puzzle). Jeannette filled the house with as many families as she could squeeze in for an annual Christmas Eve party; her children remember these occasions as moments of surpassing joy for Jeannette and unmatched conviviality for all. She was a wonderful and enthusiastic cook whose menus combined the best elements of continental cuisine and traditional Southern cooking, and she may have been the only chef in Wilton with the tenacity (or the desire) to endure the three-day ordeal of soaking and boiling and baking a dry-cured North Carolina country ham.

Jeannette loved living in Wilton, and over the years she served as president of the Wilton Library Association and president of the Wilton Historical Society. She was active in the Wilton Garden Club and on the membership committee at the Wilton Riding Club. Jeannette was a member of the congregation of the Wilton Presbyterian Church.

Jeannette was a graduate of Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, Virginia. Although Bob was a graduate of the Virginia Military Institute in nearby Lexington, the two first met in New York City when introduced by friends over a game of bridge. Jeannette brought up four Yankee children but remained in some ways a stalwart Southerner: her graciousness and her melodious accent were undiminished by six decades above the Mason-Dixon line. Her children's happiest times were the many barefoot summers spent with her and dozens of cousins on screened-in porches in North Carolina telling stories. Jeannette loved above all to laugh, and to find something to laugh about. All who knew her cherish the memory of Jeannette almost breathless with mirth, and of her talent for inducing the same state of helpless hilarity in others.

Jeannette is survived by her daughter Lois, who resides in Fairfield, and her sons Robert, of New York City, and Benjamin, of Oyster Bay Cove, N.Y. Another daughter, Katherine, died unexpectedly in 2014. Jeannette's two grandsons William and Peter also survive her.

The family will be receiving visitors on Tuesday, December 22, from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. at Meadow Ridge, Apartment 3272, 100 Redding Rd., Redding. In lieu of flowers, any donations may be made to the Wilton Library Association.

—by the family