Jean Virginia Bemis Walker—1927-2017

In her day, Jean Walker (above at 19) was an active member of the Topanga community. Photos courtesy of the Walker family

It is with gratitude and fond memories that we announce the passing of our mother, Jean Walker. Jean took her last breath with family by her side in her Topanga home two weeks after her 90th birthday, just before midnight on June 28, 2017. A 59-year resident of Topanga Canyon (lower Fernwood area), Jean will be remembered for her industriousness in mastering practical, hands-on skills such as spinning and weaving wool, handywoman skills such as carpentry and irrigation, leather work and saddle making, goat and chicken raising, clothing construction, tile work, gardening, she even learned to do auto body work so she could fix dents and dings in the family vehicles. Basically, anything Jean needed, she figured out how to make it. Jean also enjoyed training her Kerry Blue Terriers obedience, flyball, and agility.

Reclusive for the most part, Jean was active in the community in the ‘60s as an aid at Topanga Elementary School, in the ‘70s as an active parent in the Topanga chapter of ETI (Equestrian Trails Incorporated) “Canyon Cowpokes,” where she helped organize Topanga horse shows, gymkhana events, and group trail rides, and in the ‘80s as a member of PATCH, where she prepared home-cooked meals for immigrant workers who offered their services to the Topanga community. Jean will also be remembered as landlord of her rustic Topanga rental homes that she and her late husband, Jason Walker, purchased in the ‘70s. She was known to keep rents low, so long-time Topangans could afford staying in the canyon.

Born in Quantico, Virginia, on June 14, 1927, Jean held fond memories as a Marine general’s daughter. She enjoyed the recreational community environment of the Quantico marine base: ice skating, swimming, and her first job: Post Exchange “soda jerk,” serving up root beer floats and ice cream sundaes to members of the marine community. She received a BA in psychology at UC Berkeley, and a MA in social work at University of Wyoming. Working as a social worker in Los Angeles County, Jean met Jason, also a social worker. They married and moved to Topanga Canyon in the late ‘50s, drawn there because of its uniqueness as an artistic community, and for the freedom to do as one pleases in one’s own front or back yard.

Her greatest joy, up to the day she died, was spending time with her three children. She raised them on fresh-squeezed goat milk and freshlaid chicken eggs, made homemade root beer for her kids to sell at the top of Sunken Trail at Fernwood Pacific, continuously taxied her three kids to friends’ homes all over the canyon, to the beach and swimming lessons, ensured their horse riding-owning-caring experience was full and rich, and taught them her practical qualities of honesty, generosity, industriousness and self-reliance.

Jean lived independently in her Topanga home with the support of her local Topanga children, up until the very end. She died peacefully at home, her family ensuring her comfort and (despite her devout atheism) guiding her through to the next great adventure beyond. Jean is survived by her three children, Robin, Andrea and Brooks, six grandchildren and her faithful dog, Lena.

An intimate memorial was held for Jean in her Topanga home on July 22.


Remembering Jean Walker

“What a strong individual she was. I feel like another of our great Oak trees has fallen over.”  Anthea Rice

“Jean is one big inspiration for me….so calm and collected she was….such a store of creativity and was very willing to share….her willingness was appreciated beyond words…”  Erica Schlihs


“Jean was a great lady. Jason, your father was a great man too. They will be together now in heaven. I remember she loved those dogs. She was always such a nice lady and landlord to my family over the years. RIP JEAN”  Sean Colburn


“We all loved Jean. She was a super, true Topanga woman!”  Shannon Summers Colburn


“How incredible she was, strong sweet, easy going, loving and so much more. I knew Jean just a little through my short visits over the 45 years when my brother Daniel Campbell would go there.”  Catherine Campbell


“She was such an amazing force and will remain in all of our hearts. So thankful she had a wonderful passing!”  Ali Acker


“Jean was a role model to me, a strong independent woman who took care of her family. I’ll never forget her helping me assemble my son’s IKEA bunk bed and laughing at all the extra hardware we had after it was done. Or making a pattern for his costume for the school play. Jean helped me in so many ways when my son was little. She was an amazing woman.”  Patricia Hill


“Your mom taught me how to train a dog, and she always made me feel welcome, She was a strong, beautiful soul. Sending Love and hugs.”  Gina Picciolo


“Your mom was a Topanga treasure and staple. I’ll miss seeing her around the neighborhood tending to the animals and the properties.”  Kelly McCarthy Lowry


“I remember when we were kids & coming from the creek into your lower room on Valley View & Fernwood ! Your mom let us in all wet and muddy!!!”  Jacqueline Tackaberry


“Your mom and your home was such a wonderful gathering place for so many of us as we navigated growing up and Jean had such a lovely open door policy, letting many of us even live in her home.”  Kimberly Bjork


“We love Papa Jean! What a wonderful woman and family!!”  Lori Precious

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