Elizabeth Jefferson
Elizabeth Jefferson

Elizabeth B. “Liz” Jefferson (nee Baker), a 50-year resident of Montclair and a longtime librarian who, as a 5-year-old, survived the Pearl Harbor attack on Dec. 7, 1941, died at home of mesothelioma, a form of lung cancer, on March 30, 2022, surrounded by her family. She was 86.

Mrs. Jefferson was born in 1936 in Vallejo, California, to Helena May (nee Johnston) and Richard Baker. With her father an NCO in the U. S. Navy, she sailed the Pacific and was baptized on the USS Henderson. 

Her family lived in such places as Guam, the Philippines and Japan, eventually arriving in Hawaii, where Chief Petty Officer Baker supervised the electrical systems of the USS San Francisco. 

In naval housing in Pearl Harbor, she witnessed the Japanese bombing on Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941. Her family survived, although her younger brother, David, was hit by shrapnel.

Her mother and the children evacuated to Long Beach, California, on Christmas Eve, while Richard Baker spent the following years fighting in the Pacific Theater.

Mrs. Jefferson attended the public schools of Long Beach and earned a degree in theater from Long Beach State College. On a European trip she met an American serviceman on the steps of a church in Germany, declaring to a friend that very day: “I just met the man I’m going to marry.” That man was Kinmoth “Kim” Jefferson. They did marry, and they moved from California to Delaware, his home state.

Eventually her husband was ordained in the United Methodist Church, took jobs in Newark and New York City, and settled with his wife and their three daughters in Montclair. 

Over the years Mrs. Jefferson was highly active locally. She was president of the Montclair chapter of UN/USA, served on the Adult School curriculum committee and was president of The Friends of [sister city] Barnet, England, among many other activities.

She received an M.A. in library science from Montclair State College, then spent 38 years as a middle school librarian in the Newark public schools.

Mrs. Jefferson was interested in everything; her massive library displayed that interest, covering the entire Dewey Decimal System.

Not only was she interested in the life of the intellect, but equally in the life of action. She did sacred dance; she played in the Long Beach Philharmonic; she gave readings — especially of poetry; she loved museums and plays and recitals and old black-and-white movies. 

She traveled to every continent but Antarctica, and she desperately hoped to experience India. Then came COVID.

Most important of all, Mrs. Jefferson loved people, devouring the stories of their lives, their passions, their joys and their sorrows. She was a fine listener, her trademark smile lighting up an entire room.

She is survived by her husband, Robert “Bob” Petrus; her brother, David (Melinda O’Brien); her daughters, Nancy Gilletti (Carl), Judith Jonsson (Earl) and Susan Murphy (John); seven grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.

Mrs. Jefferson was predeceased by her husband of 43 years, the Rev. Kinmoth Jefferson, and their granddaughter, Kristina Elizabeth Jonsson. 

A celebratory service of her life will take place in her and Mr. Petrus’ church, Christ Church, 561 Springfield Ave., Summit, on Friday, May 13, at 7 p.m. It will be livestreamed at youtu.be/DE-SoYiNLk0.

Mrs. Jefferson supported numerous organizations, notably ones committed to social justice, the environment, the arts and education. Instead of flowers, her family asks that donations be made to one’s favorite charity in her name.

Arrangements were by O’Boyle Funeral Home, Bloomfield.