The Sunflower Initiative Remembers Jane Rinden

October 2019

Women We Have Known

Jane Rinden
Teacher, Traveller, Colleague, Friend

by Perry Carter Craven ’62

Jane Herb Rinden knew when she came to Randolph-Macon Woman’s College that she wanted to be an English teacher. I could tell that when I borrowed her notes from our Modern Poetry class which I had missed.   After opening the notebook and sitting back in my chair I realized this is what notes should be.

Unlike mine, they were perfectly outlined.  There were titles of reference books; quotes from other writers, lists of paintings and music.   You could lecture from any page.  She did own up later that these notes were the “second and refined” notes from the class– first notes taken live; the second expanded at her desk using her other books as references.

Jane graduated from R-MWC in 1962 with honors in English, the winner of the book store’s Best Student Library.  She was so proud to have read Chekhov’s “Three Sisters” in Russian.   Jane earned a master’s degree in English from New York University and began teaching at The Hewitt School and later at Packer Collegiate Institute.  A memorial service for her was held at Packer October 28, 2018.   She had died that year on July 23 in Brooklyn, NY, age 78, following a brief illness.

Most of her teaching career was at The Chapin School in New York City from 1981 to 2006.  She taught and retired as Head of the English Department.  The school’s newsletter, Chapin Today, honored Jane with an essay by Ann V. Klotz, a former colleague, and Wanda Holland Greene, a former student and colleague. Much of this piece is taken from that article. Both authors are now Heads of Schools at all-girls independent schools.

“As a teacher,” her colleagues wrote, “when students know a teacher is invested in their success and holds them to tremendously high standards, they will stretch to meet those expectations. Legions of girls learned to write persuasively, to think critically and to risk creatively with her brilliant example to illuminate their paths.”

Along the way to becoming a teacher she became a New Yorker.   She was full of the City.  Married to Thor, the love of her life, she combined the cosmopolitan and domestic.  She and Thor renovated their 1880’s Brooklyn four-story brownstone in Carroll Gardens, literally from top to bottom over decades of work.   And as noted in the Chapin article, they attended to every detail with the same exquisite care they showed one another.   The New York Times featured a story about their house on November 8, 2018.    As part of her love for Chapin, Jane made a bequest for faculty support, “The Jane Rinden Fund for Excellence in Teaching,” funded in part from proceeds from the sale of her house.

Thor was an artist and his studio where he later worked full time was on the top floor of their brownstone.  And on the bottom floor, Jane had her kitchen, dining room and her garden.  She was a wonderful cook as many friends, relatives and friends of friends who were guests over the years would testify.

Jane grew up in Metuchen, New Jersey.  Her father, a high school history teacher, leased hotel rooms for a week in the summer and the family would “do” New York.   She continued that spirit, always a ticket holder for the opera, always going to the theater and always traveling by subway.  As part of her estate, boxes of playbills from decades of theater on Broadway have been donated to the Brooklyn Public Library.  And she loved fashion.  Her students at Chapin looked forward to seeing what she would be wearing each day.

During the summer, Jane and Thor spent time at their little cottage on the Jersey shore at Stone Harbor and they stayed late in his illness after Thor was diagnosed with colon cancer. It was a quiet place.    They received caring, personal calls from doctors and after returning from a hospital stay, a sign in the fruit and vegetable marquee read, “Welcome Home, Thor:  We Love You.”  Her friends from Chapin came to call, bringing Woody Allen movies for Thor and a laptop for Jane, along with instructions, so she could keep up with thoughtful notes from their many friends during this time.

After Thor’s death in 2009 at age 72, Jane continued her travels, wrote more poetry and began their book, Jane & Thor:  A Memoir and Poems.  I am indebted to her book and reflect some of her thoughts here in this too brief article about her and her elegant life. She had studied in England for her work on Victorian writers; she had been to Russia to continue her fascination with Russian authors and painters and just before becoming ill herself had returned from a trip to Portugal.  The book contains accounts of her trips to seemingly every place in Europe– earlier travels while still in college, later ones with her mother and even more with Thor.  Her Christmas cards each year had her photograph from that year’s trip.

In November 2012, Jane joined me and my husband in Gdansk, Poland, to walk through the cold night air viewing video installations and displays as part of an international exhibition curated by a friend from SECCA (Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art) in Winston-Salem, NC. The art, the night, the cold, the history, Jane’s company, all are vivid memories. We also liked the ice cold vodka set before us even before we sat down at any restaurant.

 Jane was a powerful study in contrasts and  built a life her friends regarded with wonder.  “She made meaning through words and art and travel and was insatiably curious.  A traveler, with an appetite for new experiences, new places and always able to translate those adventures into words,” from the Chapin article.

“We are grateful for all she shared,” her colleagues wrote, “grateful for the model she offered for how to live a life full of joy and purpose.”

 Her old friends feel the same.