Although born in the USA, Jean Floyd, a director of Rye Museum, has spent most of her life elsewhere and regards herself as English. She met her geographer husband Barry when she took a course from him at the College of Wooster, Ohio, and married him at the end of her junior year, before completing a double major in English and History.
They came to England – and Rye – on their honeymoon in 1953. Barry’s parents had been coming to Winchelsea Beach since 1929 and bought 8 Watchbell Street in 1964 which became the family base – “her children’s England” – ever after.
Jean and Barry have not only had a long and successful marriage but also a working partnership as well in various countries. Barry became a professor and dean and Jean, with an MA, took up a variety of posts mostly related to teaching or resourcing English for academic and professional purposes. Their jobs took them to bush stations in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Dartmouth College (New England) two Nigerian universities, the University of West Indies in Jamaica and Durham University. She became co-ordinator for a UK-Malaysia programme preparing 1,000 students a year to enter all 41 of Britain’s universities of the time. Back in England she joined Exeter University’s International Education Centre in Plymouth and each summer directed British Council international schools in teaching English for specific purposes. She kept returning to Malaysia as a consultant.
In 1997, en route to a new Malaysian post, Barry and Jean visited Rye for the festival and saw No 30 Watchbell Street up for sale. That sealed their future and she put Malaysia on hold for four months while they sold No 8 and their Plymouth house and bought No 30 – “on the sunny side of the street”.
In 2007, Jean retired from her final job of setting up an English language resource centre for Malaysia and the couple came to settle in Rye full time. Having lived for years in a completely multi-cultural environment and enjoyed affordable world-class symphony concerts each week in Kuala Lumpur, Jean worried that they might miss the diversity and culture. But her fears were unfounded. The Rye Arts Festival, local chamber concerts and Sky Arts provide the concerts and her role as a director of Rye’s museum introduces her to visitors from all over the world.
Since 2007, Rye has benefited from Jean’s energy and enthusiasm. She has been researching and collecting material on the way buildings in Rye have changed over the centuries – a future project when she has time. If you think of Rye as an unchanging place, Jean will soon disabuse you of that misconception, pointing out that at least the façade of nearly every old house has been altered more than once over time – part of Rye’s fascinating history.
In addition, Jean has done walks for the U3A local history group called Once on Watchbell Street. She is delighted by the success of the newly located library, which she and others on the Friends of Rye Library fought to achieve, and she enjoys weekly sessions of Pilates and Extend classes.
I don’t think Jean will mind my saying that she embraces technology in a way that is quite unusual for someone of her age. Not many women of 81 are webmasters and what an amazing job she has made of the Rye Museum website. It is packed full of interesting information and she still has plans for much more to come. She is very excited by the newly launched Women’s Tower, which she believes is the oldest women’s prison left in the country.
When I first met Jean, she had bought herself a web design package and was teaching herself how to build an online family photo-history. She keeps in touch with her far-flung family via email (five children living in Australia, Hawaii, Canada, Chester and Northamptonshire and 11 grandchildren.) The family had a reunion in Rye in September to celebrate their first son’s 60th birthday. The family archive is still a work in progress – when she has time!
Jean’s only complaint about living in Rye is that the variety of events, walks, talks, groups, friends and activities cause time-management problems. “I don’t think Rye can be beat as a place to spend one’s final years,” she says. For her, the honeymoon with Rye, which began 61 years ago, goes on. Below: scenes from a good life.