Helen Witton Gjessing is a scientist, professor, community activist, and environmentalist.
Helen Witton Gjessing passed away in Shelburne on January 29, 2022. She is survived her sons Erland and Jonathan Gjessing as well as Eric Kirchoff and Catherine Gjessing. Frederick Cheney Gjessing, her spouse, and Craig Kirchoff are her surviving children. Helen Gjessing was a Boston native, born November 22, 1927. She spent most of her childhood years in Concord Massachusetts. Helen was a gifted athlete, playing field hockey and basketball. She also competed in swimming. In her later years, Helen learned to play tennis, and she continued to play into her 70s. She was active in school choir, and she retained a deep passion for music all her life, particularly classical chamber music. Helen was the daughter of divorced parents. Her brother William died in the Battle of the Bulge as a high school student. Helen claimed she wasn’t a good student and her family were geniuses. However, her unwavering curiosity and intellectual engagement with science, the natural environment, history, current affairs, politics, art, and music were evident throughout her entire life. She earned a B.S. She graduated from Beloit College in 1950, and received a masters degree in Biology from UMass at Amherst 1952. After her graduation, she worked as a laboratory researcher assistant in Boston, Massachusetts. Frederick Gjessing, her husband, was married to her in Glover Vermont on September 5, 2005. They moved to San Juan, Puerto Rico in 1958 and then to St. Thomas USVI the following year. They returned to St. Thomas after spending a year in Europe between 1961-1962 in order to complete Fred’s Fulbright Scholarship in historic architecture. Helen began teaching biology at the University of the Virgin Islands part-time, and they built a home. Helen was a great cook and shared wonderful meals with family and friends. They had strong family ties, and they often vacationed in Glover (Vt.) every summer. Helen became a tenured professor and taught many classes, including genetics and microbiology. Helen was a mother to four children and an activist for the environment and community. She was a strong advocate for transparency in government, protection of the environment and human well-being, and sustainable development. She was an active member of League of Women Voters. She was the recipient of many awards, including the League of Women Voters Impact Award and Environmental Rangers Earth Day Award. She also received the Helen Gjessing Community Service Award. Helen was an introvert with a great sense and humor. She was also a smart, articulate and outspoken volunteer advocate. Her example was an inspiration to many young women as well as men who were interested in environmental activism and science. Helen Gjessing settled in Wake Robin in Shelburne, Vermont, in 2014. Helen was loved and respected and will be greatly missed by all those who knew her well. A special thank-you to the Wake Robin and Bayada Hospice employees.
A Celebration of Life will take place in Vermont at a later time and sometime this summer in St. Thomas USVI.
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