Jean Etsinger Was a Journalist in the Most Honorable Sense of the Profession

Jean Estinger, former editor of the Source, died this week. (Photo courtesy Sarasota Herald Tribune)

Those of us who came from the mainland and have made the Virgin Islands our home know and accept that one of the painful drawbacks is oftentimes people leave. After 18 years of living and contributing in ways that can never be calculated, Jean Etsinger moved to Sarasota, Florida, where she died this week unexpectedly, after contributing to that community for 20 years in many of the same ways that she contributed to the U.S. Virgin Islands.

In 1999, theater enthusiast the late Norman Ussery, who grew up on St. Croix and served as managing artistic director at Island Center on St. Croix before serving as the founding director of Pistarckle Theater on St. Thomas, captured one of Jean’s particular areas of acumen when he wrote in a letter to the editor, “I have been following The Source for about six months and it has become my lifeline to the V.I. news. I am ecstatic to find Jean Etsinger’s Scene & Herd adding to the mix! Jean has been the voice of reason for the arts scene — sometimes complimentary, sometimes not — but always well informed and well thought out.”

Jean was one of the most reliably straightforward people I have ever known.

I am not sure exactly what day Jean showed up at the Source, but when she did, it was quietly as a volunteer editor, two roles she was always comfortable with. Happily, she went on to become a paid editor, continuing to offer her editing skills from Sarasota for a time after leaving the V.I.

There are so many things to say about what Jean did for the community and for the Source in its early days, but my fondest memory is of being crammed in a hotel room on the 49th floor of the Marriott Times Square with Jean and Source reporter Molly Morris. It was 2002 and the Source was a finalist in the category of general excellence in the OnLine Journalism Awards, judged by the Columbia School of Journalism.

I don’t remember who slept on the couch or who slept on the floor, but we laughed all night, giddy with the lovely absurdity of where we found ourselves that weekend and why. The next night, we sat at a banquet table together, enjoying the limelight for just a moment as we were acknowledged by our peers in the larger world of journalism.

Jean was not known for being effusive, much less giddy, but I remember well the cautious joy that emanated from her for those few days as we were honored by the same group of journalism professionals who judge the Pulitzer.

Jean was also not one to take credit for the things that she did, but she deserved it. Without Jean’s professionalism and vast writing and editing experience, which she freely gave almost from the start, the Source might have slipped away like so many of the internet publications that we shared the honors with that night nearly 22 years ago.

Source reporter Amy Roberts, who worked with Jean at the V.I. Business Journal, said Thursday, “I remember proudly coming to her with a story about something (can’t remember what) after interviewing the person in charge, and Jean said, ‘Oh? so what did the other side say?’ When I said I didn’t know, she told me to go find out. On went the lightbulb.”

So, Jean, it is with deep gratitude and sadness that we bid you adieu. There are many who will remember your incalculable contributions not only to the Virgin Islands arts community but as a teacher and old-fashioned trusted journalist in the deepest sense.

I am sure you would approve my sharing the attached Etsinger’s Tips that guided scores of students and Source reporters and editors for years and herewith will live on as your contribution to future journalists.

Thank you.

For the record, Jean was a volunteer for many years with the Family Resource Center, producing a fundraiser — Just Dessert — for the organization every year. Professionally in the territory, Jean served as editor of the weekly V.I. Business Journal for three and a half years, founding editor of the Vacation St. Thomas-St. John visitor guide for two, editor of the V.I. Council on the Arts quarterly for five, and Scene & Herd arts and entertainment columnist for 13.

When the Source was in its fledgling days, Jean was the full-time journalism program faculty-of-one at the University of the Virgin Islands.

An obituary will be published upon receipt in the Source Deaths section.