Remembering Jean Gallery Whitehead, dancer, Catholic school rebel, museum worker

Whitehead worked at the Museum of Children’s Arts in Oakland and studied with the renowned choreographer Anna Halprin.

Jean Gallery Whitehead. Courtesy: The Whitehead family

Surrounded by her loving family, Jean Gallery Whitehead, 69, of Berkeley, died Nov. 19 of ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. 

She was diagnosed in March 2020, early in the pandemic. Jean suffered through this devastating disease and lost her ability to speak, to swallow, to drink water, to eat food and to breathe unassisted. She was on a ventilator and a feeding tube. Her son, Walker, provided full-time care in the home so Jean would not have to go into a nursing home during the pandemic. 

Jean was born in Chicago in 1952. When she was 3, her father was transferred by Kimberly-Clark to its Neenah, Wisconsin, office, and her family moved to Appleton, Wisconsin. Jean was a Catholic school rebel. She came to Berkeley in 1974.

She was a graduate of San Francisco State University’s Labor Studies Department. She studied transpersonal counseling psychology at JFK University in Orinda. She worked at the Museum of Children’s Arts in Oakland.

Jean studied with the renowned choreographer Anna Halprin in a movement-based expressive arts program at the Tamalpa Institute in Kentfield. She treasured Halprin’s aesthetic response to a self-portrait dance performance by Jean at Mountain Home Studio:

I do not know you yet

but I do know what stirred up in me with your self portrait

warmth

curiosity

strength

courage

tenderness 

sensitivity 

seeking

and above all

Hope 

Thank you-may your path lead you to many wonderful moments and friends. Your dance opened up many moments in my life- as you shared, I connected.

Jean is survived by her loving son, Walker Ottens; his father, Axel Roy Ottens; her five siblings, Ralph Whitehead (Barbara Dafoe), Bill Whitehead (Karen Schroeder), Paul Whitehead (Marcia Thompson), John Whitehead (Suzanne Garfield), and Mary Whitehead; and her niece, Ann Whitehead (Frank Scherz), and nephews, Matthew Whitehead (Lee Anne Keller), John Whitehead (Rachel Calvin), and John Theodore Whitehead. Another niece, Sarah Whitehead, preceded her in death. Jean’s additional survivors include more than 40 cousins.