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Volunteer of the Month: Jean Davidson

interview by Sarah Holtz

Our Volunteer of the Month is Jean Davidson. It’s Jean’s 30th anniversary at WRBH, during which time she has read the newspaper week after week, the entire time. Listen or read our interview with Jean below.

Well, you’ve just wrapped up your normal Thursday newspaper of the air spot. How’d that go this morning?

I think it went all right, good.

And you’ve been reading here for how long?

Since 1987. And I think that actually is about 30 years. It’s hard to believe, I know.

So what’s changed over 30 years?

Oh my goodness. Of course, the station was located farther uptown near the Lighthouse for the Blind off State Street and the offices there were nice but much smaller than our current location. I think we had maybe two recording studios and one employee. So that has changed, for sure. And when I began back in the day, the newspaper I started reading after I had been reading for about two or three months. The newspaper then was read for three hours from seven until ten. So that’s another thing that has changed but I think it’s just awesome to really think about that that was 30 years ago, and just now not that I’ve been reading that long is not the important thing, but that WRBH is still existing, and has grown, and just new frontiers for the station and that’s encouraging.

So how did you get involved in the first place?

My lifelong friend, who was a teacher, had started reading, and she just was enjoying it a lot, and just encouraged me to do the same.

And besides the newspaper, have you read any other kinds of material for the station?

Basically, no. I think it’s been the newspaper and particularly even on Thursday for all these years. I haven’t even changed days yet.

You’ve changed partners though, right?

Absolutely. And some of the partners have become really good friends and it’s just been a joy to meet people and establish relationships with them as well.

So where are you from originally?

New Orleans.

What part of this city did you grow up in?

Actually, Uptown, where I still live. Really. The only time I spent time I guess outside of New Orleans was in my years attending LSU in Baton Rouge, graduating from there in 1965.

Oh my. What did you study at LSU?

Sociology and psychology, because that was my desire back then to become a social worker. And I actually was a social worker for many years.

Oh, really? Can you tell us a little bit about your career?

Oh, it started out as working as a case worker at the welfare department in St. Bernard Parish. So that was interesting. It’s a different area of this city. And I started working there right after Hurricane Betsy in 1965. So there was a lot of change going on there. That parish was very affected by the hurricane. So it was an opportunity to really reach out to hurting people. And from that point I transferred to Orleans Parish and became a supervisor of case workers there. And then after that I started working as a medical social worker at the hospital. So I enjoyed my years as a social worker very, very much.

That’s wonderful. Did you have a favorite aspect of the job?

Not particularly. It’s just I enjoy listening and talking to people and hearing their stories as well, and just to lend whatever minimal helping hand that I could in the midst of particularly working with the medical people in the midst of their medical difficulties and trials. It was nice to be there to assist with that.

What’s your favorite place in the city?

Oh, my favorite place in the city? Wow. I have many favorite places. Of course, it would just be on my front porch, actually. I love to sit out and watch the streetcars go by and just hear the sounds of that and the people, and sometimes just wave out the streetcar window while I’m sitting on the porch. It’s just fun to be there. I do love to walk in Audubon Park, and the front part of the park is beautiful. It’s a very calming influence to take a stroll. I do also enjoy going to the French Quarter of course to look at the antique shops on Royal Street. That’s always a fun thing for me because I’m a collector at heart and do enjoy looking at antiques, as well as going through a store or estate sale or garage sale. Well, as my husband says I can start a collection of something in a moment’s notice. I guess my first thing to collect was something that I guess people don’t really think about much now — it’s granite ware or enamel ware. I started collecting that years ago and now I guess, my goodness, my collection sort of has expanded to lots of things, like vintage old kitchen utensils. Oh my goodness, I have a button collection. I just have a number of things. You know that expression: calm, cool, and collected. I don’t know that I’m calm or cool, but I am very collected.

That’s awesome.

So it’s just fun for me to find things. Even on this street on trash day I’ve been known to pick up something that is somebody else’s trash — now my treasure.

Do you find that you like things that are more functional, or do you go for the decorative?

It doesn’t matter. Whatever you say, it’s kind of like a hidden potential in the things that people discard. Absolutely, and maybe even repurpose something, that’s always fun for me too.

That’s very cool. Do you have any one object in your home that has a story behind it?

Oh my goodness. I guess what means a lot to me and my home particularly would be the old photographs that I have on display. I have many old family photos that are very meaningful to me, and I enjoy framing them and, you know, putting them perhaps in unique locations in the house and in just different sorts of frames. That’s just very fun for me and something that I enjoy a lot.

Do you have any kind of like holy grail thing that you’re still looking for?

I’m not sure. It’s just something that just catches my eye because it’s interesting or unique or a fun color or just something that I think, I don’t know what I’m going to do with that one, when I bring it home. But I think, I’ll find some place to put it.

That’s great. So I’m wondering you mentioned that you love sitting on your porch and just kind of watching things go by. Is there a best time of year to do that in New Orleans?

Definitely in the fall. I think that’s one of my favorite times of year. I do like the spring, of course, but fall is just up a lovely time to reflect on things for which I am most grateful. With the upcoming holiday seasons of Thanksgiving and Christmas with family and grandchildren is particularly cool.

Is there anything else that you particularly like to do in your free time?

I do love reading. I particularly like to read and study God’s word. I enjoy reading historical fiction. I also like to browse magazines, of course, about collecting and decorating. They’re fun to read as well.

Are you reading anything right now?

Actually not right now. I did buy a book the other day at the bookstore and it’s about the streets of New Orleans. Frenchmen, Desire, Good Children. Actually, my normal reading partner, who is on vacation right now, he’s the one that recommended it to me. I haven’t started reading it yet but looking forward to it.

Very cool. You have a favorite bookstore in the city?

Well actually I go to the Garden District Bookshop most of the time. It’s just kind of convenient and I like to step into the coffee shop there too.

Is there anything else that you’d like to tell us about yourself that someone might not know about Jean Davidson?

I don’t think there’s too much else that anybody might want to know about me, but I would like to say in closing that it’s really been an opportunity of a lifetime for me to read here. It’s fun. It’s interesting and just building relationships as well as perhaps surveying people who may be at home and otherwise not have the ability to keep up with news or just interesting articles – to be of benefit to them and help them make their life a little more enjoyable.

Thank you, and thank you so much for your service and congratulations on the 30-year anniversary. I appreciate you talking with me today.

You’re welcome. Thank you.

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WRBH 88.3 FM, Radio for the Blind and Print Handicapped, is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and is the only full-time reading service on the FM dial in the United States. At WRBH, our mission is to turn the printed word into the spoken word so that the blind and print handicapped receive the same ease of access to current information as their sighted peers.

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