Obituary: Jan Robertson

Longtime Danbury School teacher, pioneering single mother, traveler, matriarch

In the 1960s and ‘70s, Jan Robertson always owned a large station wagon. The wagon was convenient for hauling the occasional bookshelf or bicycle, but its main purpose was to ferry people—usually her two sons and their friends—to basketball games, soccer practice, trips to the mountains, outdoor concerts and so on. The bench seat in the back would fold down, resulting in a cavernous space that could be used for sleeping during camping trips.

One of Jan’s favorite tricks when planning for a long car adventure was to pack the car the night before, and ask her boys to sleep in the back of the wagon (parked in the garage).

She was always a practical woman. Early in the morning, she would just hop out of bed, grab a quick cup of coffee and sail out of the driveway with her boys    still asleep in the back. Let the adventure begin!

Janet Elizabeth Robertson was born on May 29, 1934, in St. Louis, Missouri, the only child of John Irving Robertson and Ella Marie Robertson. When she was a teenager, her mother had a debilitating stroke that left her speechless and barely able to walk. Overnight, young Jan was no longer only a teenager; she was a teenager and a nurse and a cook and a maid.

She managed the house, went to school when she could, and took care of her mother while her father, a traveling salesman, was away. These events shaped much of her life to come, in which she chose a career path focused on helping people with disabilities, showing compassion, empathy and respect for others, and always embracing life and its opportunities. 

She graduated in 1952 from Clayton High School in St. Louis, and then attended Washington University, also in St. Louis, graduating in 1956 with a degree in occupational therapy. While at Washington she was a member of the Zeta Tau Alpha sorority, where she met several lifelong friends. She also met Jack Brandt, whom she married in St. Louis in 1957.

She worked as an occupational therapist and began her family. Her son Karl was born in Wisconsin in 1958, and her son Keith was born in California in 1962. The family moved to Tucson, Arizona in the spring of 1963. The couple divorced in 1966. 

She then enrolled in a master’s program in special education at the University of Arizona. Upon graduation in 1968, she and her sons moved to Claremont, where she accepted an offer for a teaching position at Danbury Elementary, a new school devoted to students with physical disabilities.

She lived in Claremont (Karl and  Keith graduated from Claremont High School in 1976 and 1979, respectively) and later Irvine and Placentia, until retiring from Danbury in 1993. She loved her students and truly enjoyed helping them navigate an educational system that was not designed for them. She was highly influenced by her fellow teachers and was always open to trying new approaches in the classroom.

She was a progressive and adventurous woman for her time. After her divorce she changed careers to better care for her boys as a single mother. Her decision to go into teaching was intentional, so she could keep school hours and have her summers free. She earned a graduate degree, pursued her career, bought and sold houses and managed her own affairs in an era when women were not expected to do so. 

She embraced California’s beauty, and purchased a cabin near Crestline in the San Bernardino Mountains and spent many weekends and summer months there, taking in the fresh mountain air, enjoying the views and entertaining guests. 

She was also a beach lover, and made frequent day trips to Orange County beaches, as well as an occasional weekend trip to San Diego to visit a dear friend in the Mission Beach area. She also loved San Francisco and made many trips there over the years, often stopping by the Buena Vista Cafe for an Irish coffee. In summers she and her sons undertook memorable car camping adventures in California, Mexico and beyond. 

Throughout her years in California she maintained an affinity for Tucson and kept in touch with many friends there. When she retired, she bought a house (often referred to as “Jan’s Resort”) in the Catalina Foothills of Tucson and went on to enjoy more than 20 years of retirement bliss, spending time with old friends, making many new friends and taking in gorgeous views of the Catalina mountains while swimming in her backyard pool.

Over the years, she was active in bridge clubs, a Tucson club for tall people, the Tucson chapter of Clan Donnachaidh/Robertson (Scottish heritage society), various literacy programs, an ambassador program for international students at the University of Arizona and the Tucson Temple of Universality.

One of her many loves was traveling. She would never say no to any traveling adventure. She made numerous trips to Hawaii and Mexico, and investigated her Scottish roots in Scotland. Her wanderings took her through Europe, Mexico, Canada and South America. To celebrate her son Karl’s 50th birthday, she and her sons took a rail adventure in Quebec, Canada. 

A lifelong bridge player, she often hosted bridge parties. She also loved to play a variety of board and card games with friends and family. She loved entertaining and frequently threw informal parties and potlucks. Her home was always open to visitors. Jan was a lover of dogs, and the family remembers her loyal companions Ricky, Ceilidh and Dreamboat.

She enjoyed life’s pleasures: chocolate, sunsets, music, swimming, parties, baseball, dining out, travel and good friends, of which she had many. 

“Her love for and acceptance of all the world’s people set a wonderful example for us,” her family shared.

She had a third, honorary son, Jairo Al Moreno, who joined her life in 1980 and with whom she enjoyed many fun adventures for nearly 40 years until his premature death in 2019. A daughter came to her in 2009, when Keith married Zde?ka Guadarrama. She warmly welcomed Zde?ka into her heart and home.

She was proud of and crazy about her grandchildren, Andreas, 9, and Marina, 6. Whenever they were together, she would spend time with them talking, playing games and reading. When they were not together, she made sure to keep them close to her heart by carrying a small photo album with their most recent pictures. She would share the album with her friends at the first opportunity. 

Jan Robertson died peacefully in her sleep in Tucson on June 21, with her son Karl at her side. She was 86.

She was preceded in death by her parents and by her honorary son, Jairo Moreno.

She is survived by her son Karl of Tucson; son Keith and his wife Zde?ka Guadarrama and their children Andreas and Marina Guadarrama-Brandt, all of Kansas City, Missouri.



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