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Sylacauga remembers co-founder of Comer Museum and Arts Center Jean Pinkerton


SYLACAUGA, Ala. – Ruth Jean Arbuckle Pinkerton, age 90, died peacefully on New Year’s Eve surrounded by her family.  Her active life was filled with love, devotion, service and leadership.

Many Sylacauga and Childersburg families remember Jean Pinkerton for her vivacious personality, happy countenance, and love for history and the arts.  But Mrs. Pinkerton was also loved and admired as a teacher, mentor, and ground-breaker.  She was an inspiration to others for her wealth of knowledge, loving attitude, and belief in life-long learning.

Born in Asheville, North Carolina, Jean Pinkerton graduated from Carson-Newman College with a major in English and minor in History.  While there, she met and married her husband, Sanford Brown (Pinky) Pinkerton, newly out of the Navy and a Georgia Tech graduate.

The Pinkertons began their married years moving around to various locations for Kimberly-Clark, Corporation.  In 1949, the Pinkertons were sent to Childersburg, Alabama. to start a new paper mill for Kimberly-Clark.  Jean Pinkerton first began her teaching career at B.B. Comer Elementary School, and in 1951 they welcomed their first child, Mike Pinkerton.  A few years later they were transferred to Neenah, Wisconsin, where their daughter, Kathy, was born.  Then in 1959, the Pinkertons were sent back to Sylacauga and never left.

Jean Pinkerton then began teaching at Sylavon Elementary School before moving to Sylacauga High School, where she spent the bulk of her career.  She taught history and coached the debate team, which rose to become State Champions under her guidance.  State Auditor and Sylacauga native Jim Zeigler shared, “Mrs. Jean Pinkerton was my Sylacauga High School debate coach.  She taught me how to analyze and address public issues.  She got me started debating, and I have not stopped since.  She goes to be with her son, my friend Mike Pinkerton.”

She retired to travel with Pinky on his many business trips and support him as he rose to become President of the Coosa Pines Newsprint Division of Kimberly-Clark in Childersburg. In her retirement she pursued many of her interests, joining an archaeology dig in Talladega County and working to found, develop, and lead the Isabel Anderson Comer Museum and Arts Center in Sylacauga.

Isabel Anderson Comer Museum and Arts Center Executive Director Donna Rentfrow emphasized the impact that Pickerton has had on Sylacauga.  “She has been a wonderful icon in this community and she blazed a trail in getting the museum started.  She inspired so many with her love for history and art.  She was on the interview committee that hired me about 18 years ago, and she always encouraged me to do as much as possible for the museum and the arts – it got in my blood. Hopefully through our efforts, the museum will be here for years to come.”

Former Sylacauga Chamber of Commerce Director and Comer Museum Board member Carol Emlich-Bates emphasized the impact that Pickerton had on her. “I met Jean in 1983 working on the museum board. She was a wonderful lady, and it was a pleasure to know and work with her.  She loved the museum; it was her baby after her retirement. She was always a calming force to keep everyone on the same page in planning and organizing the museum and its events. It was a pleasure to know her; she was a grand lady and I will miss her.”

Retired B.B. Comer Library Director Dr. Shirley Spears stated, “Jean was a learned person who was involved with arts and culture at the local and state level.  She and Mr. Pinkerton supported education with gifts to the schools and to the public library.  They were aware of and communicated the difference that the Comer Library makes for the cause of lifelong learning.  Their appreciation was encouraging to me and to the library staff and board.”

Mrs. Pinkerton is survived by Pinky, her husband of 69 years; her daughter, Kathy English (John); and her beloved grandson, Ian English.  She was predeceased by son, Mike Pinkerton.

Funeral services will take place at 3:00 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 4, 2018, at Curtis and Son Funeral Home North Chapel in Sylacauga. A visitation will precede the service from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m., and a reception will be held at Sylacauga Country Club immediately following the service. Those who so desire can make donations to the Sylacauga City Schools Foundation or the Sylacauga Animal Shelter.

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