Jean Derby, editor and Girl Scout leader, dies

Jean Elizabeth Derby, who edited technical and scientific journals and was a Girl Scout Troop leader in Monkton, died of a cerebral hemorrhage Oct. 26 at Gilchrist Care Towson. She was 78.

Born in Newton, Iowa, she was the daughter of William Johnson, a Presbyterian pastor, and his wife, Elizabeth McCrea, who assisted her husband at his church assignments.

As a child she traveled with her parents to church assignments and returned to Newton, where she recalled living in a close-knit community. She was a 1962 Newton High School graduate.

“My mother always referred to the ‘Midwestern way,’ which to her meant kindness, positivity and resilience,” said her daughter, Lara Hopewell of Ashburn, Va. “It also meant a can-do spirit which she applied to any challenge, big or small. She used that can-do spirit to be good to our community.”

She obtained a bachelor’s degree in English from Monmouth College and a master’s degree in teaching from Duke University.

She then settled in Jacksonville, Fla. and taught. She told her family that as much as she wanted to teach, the Midwestern character in her just wanted to live near a beach for the first time.

“It was also the time of the Civil Rights struggle. She was interested in seeing the South up close and personal,” her daughter said. “She wrote in a personal remembrance that she was in class when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and was shocked when her class of 13- and 14-year-olds cheered at the horrible news.”

She met her future husband, Richard Derby, who ran an advertising firm, while teaching in Jacksonville. They settled in the Baltimore area in the late 1960s. She lived in Monkton and began taking a role in community affairs.

“When our high school was overcrowded she rallied the community and was a key leader in building Hereford Middle School,” said her daughter. “When we wanted a community hike-and-bike trail she worked to make that happen as well. She helped establish the day care center at Monkton United Methodist Church.”

Her pastor, the Rev. Jack Bussard, called Ms. Derby “a fine lady who raised three good children and was a very good member of our church. She never complained.”

She volunteered at her children’s schools and became a leader of Girl Scout Troop 242.

“It was her labor of love,” her daughter said. “She began leading the troop when we were Brownies, and it was decided early on that this troop would stick together and raise enough money to one day take a dream trip to England and France.” To help raise money, Ms. Derby rallied the Scouting families to create a holiday gift wrapping business at the Hunt Valley Mall.

“We took over a shop area in the mall with very professional wrapping designs, bows and equipment,” said her daughter. “In the process, mom taught us all so much about resilience, commitment, business and travel. It also created a group of families that will be friends forever.”

After raising her family, Ms. Derby worked as a freelance editor for medical and scientific journals at Tessco Technologies, a Baltimore firm.

“This was a natural choice given her deep interest in proper grammar and precise writing,” her daughter said.

She worked with Tessco for 18 years before retiring in 2000.

Ms. Derby believed in protecting the environment. In a college reunion biographical sketch, she wrote: “We built a house on a wooded hillside filled with wildlife, even coyotes, bobcats, and a little black bear or two in the fall. Bald Eagles snatch trout from the Gunpowder River at the foot of my hill, and a hike-and-bike trail runs nearby. It’s Eden for sure!”

Her daughter said she befriended a skunk named Winston who bit her ankles when she talked on the phone. She also had three pet foxes, a little creature called a cackamistle and many beloved dogs. She watched eagles on a live video cam.

Ms. Derby also took an interest in genealogy and tracked her family’s path to America from the British Isles. After conducting her research, she discovered the founders of her family had arrived in this country before the Revolutionary War.

“Ever the pragmatist, she said she did the research to help spare her children from having to do that work,” her daughter said.

Services were held Nov. 1 at Monkton United Methodist Church.

In addition to her daughter, survivors include a son, Michael Derby of Brooklyn, N.Y.; another daughter, Christen Derby of Bethesda; a sister, Martha Larocco of St. Louis, Mo.; and seven grandchildren. Her former husband, from whom she was divorced, died in 2015.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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