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Obituary: Jean Dirks

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2/16/1949 – 2/8/2022
Lawrence

Jean Dirks was a compassionate, vibrant, intelligent woman who found purpose in her work with the courts, mental health and child welfare clients, and in raising her three children, Matthew, Jeffrey, and Rebecca.

Jean Dirks was born in Washington, DC in 1949 and raised in Bethesda, Maryland. Her father, Frederick Dirks, worked for the International Monetary Fund, which inspired Jean’s interest in the stock market. Jean was very close to her mother, Doris Dirks, both in her childhood and throughout her adult life. As a child, Jean enjoyed reading, writing, and visiting Deep Creek lake in the summers with her parents and older sister Peggy. Jean attended Walt Whitman High School and Swarthmore College. She enjoyed her life at Swarthmore, where she was a psychology major and proud advocate of the women’s liberation movement. Under Jean’s prompting, her class’s graduation gift ensured access to birth control for women students at Swarthmore for the first time.

After graduating from Swarthmore in 1970, Jean obtained a Master’s Degree in childhood development at Harvard University. At Harvard, Jean met an astronomy doctoral student with long, curly black hair and John Lennon-style glasses. Tom Cravens would become her husband for 47 years and the father of their three children. Jean married Tom in 1975. She received her Ph.D. from Cornell University in 1976. She taught briefly at the University of Florida and completed postdoctoral work at the University of Michigan. Jean gave birth to her first son, Matthew, in 1981. Her second son, Jeffrey, was born in 1983. During the 1980s, Jean worked as a clinical psychologist at the Southgate Regional Center and then at the Monroe Mental Health Center.

The family moved to Lawrence, Kansas in 1988 after Tom accepted a position at the University of Kansas. Jean and Tom’s daughter, Rebecca Dirks, was born in 1989. Rebecca was a great blessing to Jean, who as a women’s libber and close friend to her mom Doris appreciated having her own daughter.

After the family moved to Kansas, Jean worked as a licensed psychologist for more than 30 years at Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center. Starting at Michigan and continuing at Bert Nash until her passing, Jean dedicated her professional life to clients with developmental disabilities and children and families affected by child abuse and neglect. Jean regularly testified in court, wrote evaluation reports, and collaborated with judges and attorneys in child welfare cases. She always gave gifts and letters to the Bert Nash support staff on holidays and Support Staff Day. Her son Jeffrey handled child abuse and neglect cases in the Bronx Family Court, which was a source of pride/connection and conversation for Jean. Rebecca’s path to becoming a surgeon and Matthew’s work as a senior data analysist for Douglas County were also great sources of pride for Jean.

All three children attended Lawrence High School. Jean and Tom very much enjoyed being parents and having the children participate a variety of activities including marching band, debate, the tennis team, and scouting. Both Matthew and Jeffrey are Eagle Scouts, and Rebecca was an accomplished martial artist. All three children were involved in band or choir, including countless halftime marching band shows that Jean and Tom enjoyed. Jean appreciated the great friends all three kids made during their childhood years. The family enjoyed many activities together including trips to relatives and friends on both coasts, ski trips to Colorado, vacations in Branson, and cruises. Jean also enjoyed science fair projects with her children, cooking, watching Kansas University basketball, and attending the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.

Jean wrote to her children in a letter on Christmas of 2011: “And although your future paths may be at times hard, I know with certainty that you will each go far and I am tremendously proud of each of you, and happy for what each of you has brought to my life.” One of her biggest joys in life was spending time with and talking to her children, and doing things for her children. She was the epitome of a devoted, supportive, loving parent.

Jean’s children and husband have been infinitely graced by what Jean brought to our lives. After their children left the nest, Jean and Tom still very much liked to follow their children’s lives in the wider world, including at their various colleges and professional schools and in their many locations (Boston, St. Louis, Michigan, New York, Virginia, Indiana, and Minneapolis). Jean was a close friend to her children and source of support in their many challenges and triumphs. Both parents were very happy to see all three children join with wonderful partners (Matthew with Rebekah, Jeffrey with Audrey, and Rebecca with Nelson). And they enjoyed seeing their grandchildren Matilda and Ophelia. To her family and all those who knew her and loved her, her influence and memory is a blessing.

For more information or to post a condolence go to warrenmcelwain.com.


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