The Jean E. Thomson Foundation

The photo above is the founder, Jean E. Thomson, as a teenager in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Jean was raised there, and greatly enjoyed being in the Minneapolis Hiking Club in her early adult years. During her working career she traveled across the country. Jean eventually settled in Tacoma, Washington. See Jean's Family and Career History below.

Here is Jean doing what she loved best; being out in nature with her camera. During her lifetime, Jean's photos were published in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, where she was employed, as well as numerous Educational Filmstrips that were shown in classrooms across the country.

The Foundation's original name was the Thomson-Zajac Foundation, first organized in 1999. This is Carol D. Zajac, whom Jean created the Foundation in memory of. Carol passed in 1998, after being Jean's close friend for nearly 20 years. To view the amazing true story of how the Foundation came to be, click here .

Jean wrote a number of books, some comprising of poetry & prose, and some featured her photography along with her writings. The first publishing she did was in 1941 with her booklet simply titled "Poems". It consisted of original poems about reflections of life, and of the beauty of nature.

Jean's next publication was titled "Mountains, Ten Photos by Jean Thomson". This was done in the early 1960's. At that time Jean was producing Travelogs for some of the National Parks in the USA, Canada, and Europe. Though she selected only US mountains for this booklet.

In 1985 Jean published a booklet titled "Special Places for photographers in Washington State. Seven Trips in Downtown Seattle", which was a guide for seeing Seattle's historic center of the city. This particular work was published by the Puget Sound Chapter of the PSA (Photographic Society of America Inc.), with typesetting by Carol D. Zajac, and sketches by Carol's daughter; Patti Jeffrey.

This is the cover of her book titled "Landmarks", a beautiful soft cover collection of 47 of Jean's original works of poetry. Many of these beautifully written poems reflect experiences she had during her life, and some are in dedication to people who inspired her. The artist rendition of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge on the cover was also done by Jean.

Another of Jean's books is titled "Confluence". It features 20 pages of stunning photos taken by Jean throughout her career, along with some inspiring verses that go with the photos. Published in 1974, this soft cover book provides the reader with soothing and thoughtful images & feelings of the world, and of life.

The photo above is of the Foundation's President and Vice-President, Kenneth J. Zajac, and his wife Debbie L. Zajac.
Ken and Debbie were the original Board members since the start of the Foundation in 1999, and both provided important input into the development and mission goals. They have faithfully served on the Board, and take great pride in continuing the Foundation.

Jean's Family and Career History

Jean, her brother Jock, and her mom Lola

Jean, her dad John, and her mom Lola

Jean’s Family
Jean was born on January 5th, 1922 to Lola & John C. Thomson, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and was Baptized at Westminster Presbyterian Church. She was their first child, with her brother John B. Thomson being born 2 years later; in 1924. Throughout Jean’s life, she dedicated herself to work and her career, but never was married, and she never had any children.

Her father was an important person in the banking industry, having started as a clerk in the early 1900‘s, and worked his way up to be the President of the American Institute of Banking over the years. John Cameron Thomson’s career led him to become a long-standing President of Bancorporation (later named Northwest Banco); where he led the institution & their affiliate banks thru the Great Depression & beyond with remarkable recovery & growth policies that inspired the industry.

J. Cameron Thomson earned the respect and admiration of such people as General John J. Pershing of World War I fame, Pearl S. Buck- the Pulitzer Prize & Nobel Prize winning writer & humanitarian, Harold Sweatt of Honeywell Inc., John Budd of the Great Northern Railroad, Walter Heller of the Council of Economic Advisors, Hubert H. Humphrey- Vice President, and John F. Kennedy- President of the United States. It was Jean’s father who taught her many of the accounting skills she would use throughout her career.

Jean mother, Lola (West) Thomson was an inspiration to Jean. Though she greatly enjoyed the home life, Lola did not call herself a “housewife”, but rather she preferred the term “homemaker”. She had an affinity for writing; not only record-keeping, but also in creating prose & poetry. But these skills Lola kept within her family. She did not have anything published; instead she shared her thoughts & words on paper with her husband and family. Lola took pride in her home, and she very much enjoyed the many trips she took with her husband.

Jean’s only sibling, John B. Thomson, was a character & a hero in his own right; and greatly loved & admired by Jean. Affectionately known as “Jock”, he excelled in schooling- becoming the Editor-in-Chief of the high school paper there, and afterwards he entered Harvard University during the first years of World War II.

He enlisted in the US Army, performing military intelligence under the Supreme Headquarters. A seldom-discussed duty of his was going under cover, behind enemy lines into Berlin, Germany to gather information. During one such mission in 1944 he was discovered & captured by the enemy; only to make a daring escape. On another mission, he was inside a building that was hit by a bomber. His wounds were extensive, but he did survive- although his wounds eventually led to his death in subsequent years.

Jock returned to the States, and was chosen by Commander Harold E. Stassen to be one of his two Aides at the United Nations conference in San Francisco; where much of the groundwork & direction of the United Nations at that time was laid out. Jock then returned to his home in Minneapolis, where he became a newspaperman. He was an editorial writer there, and eventually he moved to California where he continued to write & do radio work.

He also had the family knack for not only writing, but for art as well; having drawn remarkable 2oth century style artistry in the 1930’s & 40’s. He died at the age of 30, a loss that had a large impact on Jean.

Jean’s Career
Jean graduated from the Northrop Collegiate School of Minneapolis in 1939. Her early jobs were technical in nature; preparing statistical reports for a life insurance co., then doing payroll for a large Minneapolis newspaper. Her upbringing in numbers served her well.

After World War II ended, she worked for a wholesale electrical co. handling their accounts & record keeping, which led to her employment at a lithography firm as a full-charge bookkeeper. At the end of the 1950’s she expanded her duties to include work for a law firm & a flooring decorator company at the same time as she handled the litho work.

The 1960’s saw her really take off into her specialty; production work. She landed a job with the Encyclopaedia Britannica as an educational film producer. This work suited Jean very well, as she edited & assisted with narration on four major films, with one more film that she revised to her credit. She was so successful that she continued on as a unit manager with a Hollywood movie company which made 15 physical science films. She also produced educational filmstrips on subjects including geography, literature, art, Indian cultures, and other subjects. Much of her work has been shown in classrooms across the country to educate students for decades.

Using her experience in production of these kinds of earth sciences films, she then produced travelogs of National Parks in the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Europe. These were near-complete self-productions; Jean did the photography, wrote & narrated the material, and she even recorded the background music. Because of the travelogs’ great success, she was hired to lead educational trips thru some of the US National Parks- and again Jean was responsible for most of the work. She planned all the phases of each trip, set up the financing & bookkeeping, transportation, lodgings, set up the group activities, and she even set up the publicity for the trips.

With all the travels & activity Jean had over these years, she still found time to study. She took professional writing courses at both the University of Minnesota and University of California. Her work involved many newspapers & publications, where she did offset printing, editing, writing, and format layouts for various publication companies.

Her own self-publications started in 1941, with her booklet titled “Poems”. She published “Mountains, Ten Photos”, “Special Places…. in Downtown Seattle”, “Landmarks”, and most recently “Confluence”.

In addition to her own publications, Jean has had her work published in many popular publications. Early on, Jean was asked to fill in for a Minneapolis newspaper column called “Good Evening Ladies”, she has had poems in the Christian Science Monitor, a photo essay and poems in the Tacoma News Tribune, an article on fighting breast cancer in the Minneapolis Tribune, and many articles in the Photographic Society of America’s Journals. Jean knew, worked amongst, and was known by & admired by some famous people in her field such as Virna Haffer and Ansel Adams.

Jean’s Hobbies
To call her extra-curricular activities “hobbies” doesn’t seem to do it justice. She put as much effort & skills into her other activities as she did her work. Jean joined the Minneapolis Hiking Club in the late 1940’s. She helped with making of yearbooks, she participated in a western musical show, helped with rummage sales, did auditing of the books, led a number of trips into the mountains, and won awards for distinguished service.

Jean joined the Photographic Society of America, and the Tacoma Photographic Society, where she quickly became known as a highly skilled and artistic photographer. She participated in many aspects of both entities; as a board member, editor, judge of photo competitions, President, banquet chairwoman, presentations in conferences & conventions, set up outdoor workshops, recipient of many competition awards, and in particular- provided crucial input to the PSA when the organization was in near-failure; and she succeeded in forming bylaws & adopting governing rules that propelled PSA back into a solid organization. She also did the accounting for many years, was the PSA financial planner and assistant treasurer.

In her later years Jean was a member of the Tacoma Cancer Support Group, giving insight to members and assisting with meetings scheduling & discussions. She also joined the West Slope Neighborhood Coalition, a community group in her neighborhood. She was the secretary, who worked on bylaw revisions, and an important disaster preparedness program in conjunction with the City of Tacoma. She even made her house a meeting place in case of an emergency- having had a whole-house size generator installed, and coordinated distributing emergency kits with communications & survival supplies to her neighborhood.

Her legacy was well-planned- her having established the Thomson-Zajac Foundation in 1999, which was later changed to the name the Jean E. Thomson Foundation. She devoted her life to the places she served, and the people she worked for & with. She ensured that her life’s work would carry on to people after her passing, and that they would benefit from her efforts, experiences, and skills.

Jean passed away on July 14, 2003, and her request was for her ashes, along with her beloved dog, Snowy, to be placed at Emmons Vista, on Mount Rainier, in the same location that her dear friend, Carol D. Zajac’s ashes were placed in 1999.