In Memorium: Jacqueline “Jackie” Fessard Johnson (1960-2014)

The Greater Louisville Region of JASNA lost a much-loved member when Jackie Johnson died of cancer on December 14, 2014.  Jackie, who was one of the founding members of JASNA Greater Louisville, took great pride in rarely missing a meeting and being involved with the Region in a variety of ways.

Jackie Johnson

For four years, Jackie served as Program Coordinator and as editor of the Regency Observer, the Greater Louisville newsletter.  She delighted in including members from Lexington, Kentucky, and Evansville, Indiana, and hoped to expand the membership to other Kentucky counties.  In recent years, she served as our region librarian and managed the lending library.  Jackie was also an active member in Joseph-Beth Bookseller’s Jane Austen Book Club in Lexington.  She made sure to bring her fellow Greater Louisville Janeites to discussions where she added new insight into well-loved classics.  When it became impossible to attend meetings due to her health, she still followed along and even recommended titles for the group to discuss.

One of Jackie’s goals was to introduce Jane Austen to new readers and to deepen the understanding of the novels to seasoned readers.  At local meetings, Jackie developed questions about the novels and facilitated book discussions designed to challenge the membership’s perspective and impart new insights.  Along with her best friend Tresa Reynolds, she presented discussions and lectures about various Jane Austen works and topics, including Lady Susan, and “Jane Austen’s Flawed Men and Women.”  In June of 2014, she and Tresa presented a discussion of Mansfield Park.  Standing on crutches the entire time, Jackie addressed issues and facilitated the discourse with her usual energy and knowledge.  It was her last presentation, but not her last demonstration of her mastery of Jane Austen.  When she attended the Festival in July, also on crutches, author and presenter John Mullan called her the “Lady with the Knowledge” because she answered all his challenging questions.

Professionally, Jackie was Coordinator of the Collections Department and Special Collections at Indiana University Southeast Library, where she continually expanded the collection of Jane Austen materials.  She also offered non-credit courses on the works of Jane Austen, including, in 2008, “Debate, Romance, and Satire: Jane Austen’s Early Novels” and in 2010, “Austen’s Problem Novels.”  At her church in 2011, Jackie led a small group through an exploration of “Virtue in Austen’s Novels and Characters.”

One of the highlights of Jackie’s life and career was the opportunity to deliver a paper at Chawton in July of 2009 as part of the “New Directions in Austen Studies Conference.”  Jackie and Tresa presented “Anne Elliot’s Passage to Familial Happiness” on the lawn at Chawton and offered the presentation again to the Greater Louisville Region in 2010.

After attending her first AGM in Chicago in 2008, Jackie presented at two other AGMs.  At Portland in 2010 she gave a paper entitled “Henry Tilney: Austen’s Horatian Hero,” and in 2011, she and Tresa Reynolds traveled to Fort Worth to present “A Justification for Mrs. Jennings.”

Fulfilling her desire for Louisville to host an AGM, Jackie served as Breakout Session Committee Co-Chair, making decisions and working from her hospital bed until the last few weeks of her life.  The AGM Planning Committee in Louisville will honor Jackie by dedicating the 2015 AGM to her.  Because she loved horses, the Louisville Region made a donation in her memory to sponsor a Shire horse at Chawton Library.

Jackie loved JASNA and her role in it.  In addition to her own considerable talents, she brought to JASNA the expertise and sweet charm of her husband Paul and son Kanah, who tirelessly directed the tea room at the Jane Austen Festival at Locust Grove.  For Jackie, JASNA was a family affair.  A quote from her favorite Austen novel might describe her relationship with JASNA Greater Louisville.  She was “ . . . in the centre of such a circle, loved by so many, and more loved by all than she had ever been before. . . .”