A Light Goes Out

Mary Ann and Jeff Swenson

The mid-seventies were pretty dark times for me. My first husband and I had left the reservation because he had assured me that he’d stop drinking if he wasn’t around his drinking buddies. Not only that, he had always wanted twenty acres on a river. So in late 1973 we bought a farmhouse and twenty acres on the Chehalis River just outside PeEll, Washington. In recovery parlance, this is what is known as a geographical cure, and it didn’t work. My husband immediately settled in to the tavern in PeEll and made the same kind of drinking buddies in our new location as he’d had in our old one.

I had no sooner given up my teaching job than I got pregnant with our second child. By the end of 1974, I had two children under the age of three, a full time job selling life insurance, a lush of a husband who worked construction out of town during the week, and a bad case of postpartum depression. Talk about a recipe for disaster, and yet, just when things were at their worst, a beacon of light and hope came into my life.

In 1975 Western Electric closed down a facility in Vancouver and laid off 800 people over a six month period. All of those people had group insurance coverage which, if they wanted to, could be converted into individual policies at standard rates regardless of pre-existing health conditions. My manager in Longview asked if I could go to Vancouver three days a week to meet with those folks. (By the way, selling insurance to people who have just lost their jobs may not be easy, but it can be done. That’s one of the reasons I almost always manage to sell autographed copies of my books to people who show up at book signings and tell me that NEVER read murder mysteries!)

On Sundays I would drive my husband to Centralia to catch the train for Seattle. On Monday it would take me 33 trips to get my stuff for the week, the kids stuff for the week, the high chair, the potty chair, the playpen, and both kids loaded into the car. After dropping them and their stuff off with the baby sitter thirty miles away in Napavine, I would drive first to Longview and check in with my district manager before going on the Vancouver. Once there I would make appointments for Monday evening, Tuesday, and Wednesday, before heading north on Thursday to drop off applications in Longview, buy groceries, pick up the kids and their stuff, and then drive that last 30 miles to back to PeEll where I would unload the car and start doing laundry.

Did I mention my husband drank? Since most of his income was otherwise expended, I was the one left paying the bills and mostly without much help. By the time I finished paying the mortgage, the sitter, and the other bills what was left didn’t go far, and I ended up staying in some pretty dodgy places on my three nights a week on the road One morning while reading the local Vancouver newspaper over breakfast, I saw an article to the effect that the Orchards United Methodist Church had a new minister, the Reverend Mary Ann Swenson and her husband Jeff. There was no rule that I could only sell insurance to unemployed people, so I called Mary Ann and made an appointment. She was a lovely person, with a ready smile and an inner glow about her, but when it came to insurance, she wasn’t buying. At the end of the appointment, however, I asked her if there was anyone in her congregation who would be willing to take in a boarder three nights a week. I’ll never forget what she answered without a pause. “Well, you could always stay with Jeff and me.”

And I did just that —for three nights a week, for the next six months. I slept on the hardwood floor in their guest room, not because they were mean to me but because they were just starting out and didn’t have any furniture. Did I mention I was dealing with postpartum depression. I would often be driving to evening appointments just as other people were sitting down to evening meals with their families. I shed lots of tears on those solitary drives and would have to stop and repair my makeup before I went inside for an appointment.

But when I came home to Jeff and Mary Ann’s place each night, it was like falling into welcoming pool of normal life. We would sit together in their living room watching Johnny Carson or M *A*S*H. We talked. I worked on a piece of needle work, a needle point copy of an old and much beloved Lion and Lamb Christmas card, and the only piece of needlepoint I ever did. Over time, I learned their story. Jeff had supported Mary Ann while she was in seminary, and now he was the minister’s spouse, doing all those things that need to be done in the background, including cooking, cleaning, laundry, and car maintenance, as well as teaching Sunday school and singing in the choir. The way I remember them, she was petite and soft-spoken. He was tall, cheerful, and unfailingly pleasant. Physically he resembled Ant Anstead on Motor Trend’s Wheeler Dealers.

My big takeaway from staying with them through that tough time was witnessing first hand how a real marriage worked and how far out of kilter my own life had become. By the end of that six months, I had regained enough of my strength to gather up the kids and go home to Arizona. I left with every intention of getting a divorce, a process that took another five years. My geographical cure didn’t work initially, either, since my husband packed up and followed. It took another five years for me to sever that tie. But my days with Jeff and Mary Ann gave me the strength to start the painful process.

After moving several times in the next few years, I lost track of Jeff and Mary Ann because while I was moving around, so were they—first to Wenatchee. Then after being elected bishop, she served in that capacity first in Denver, Colorado, and later in Pasadena, California. When I went to write the Joanna Brady books, I created the characters of Joanna’s best friend, Marianne Maculyea, and her husband, Jeff Daniels, in honor of the real Mary Ann and Jeff and as a way of saying thank you to them for their loving care in my time of need. One of my fans in Wenatchee noticed the resemblance to their then current pastor and suddenly, just like that, Jeff and Mary Ann came back into my life.

Although I’ve never been a Methodist, Mary Ann has been my pastor from then to now. She flew to Tucson and did a wonderful Renewal Of Vows ceremony for Jeanne T. and Jon on the occasion of their fifth wedding anniversary. She visited with Jon in both his hospital rooms at U. Dub Hospital and later at his room in hospice. She also flew to Seattle to speak at his funeral. She did Bill’s and my renewal of vows for our twenty-fifth anniversary. She’s always been there for us and for our family, and although Jeff didn’t always travel with her, his loving care and support in the background made her many travels possible.

But now Mary Ann, the one who has always been there to comfort others, is in need of comforting herself, because half of the light that glowed through the darkness to rescue me has now gone out. Jeffery Joe Swenson, who grew up in Elma, Washington, passed away on August 22, 2021 in Pasadena, California. Mary Ann’s cherished partner in ministry is no longer walking at her side or guiding the handlebars of their beloved tandem bicycle. At the beginning of this piece I referred to them as a beacon of light and hope, and I mean that. They were all that and more, working together and lighting the way for others through 53 years of marriage.

She is feeling lost and alone right now, but I know that by writing this small remembrance of the two of them, she will be in the thoughts and prayers of my many readers.

Believe me, every prayer counts.

89 thoughts on “A Light Goes Out

    • AMEN! Sending heartfelt prayers for comfort at this time of loss and grief to Mary Ann, to you, and to all who were blessed to have Jeff in their lives-

      “Love is stronger than death-” The Song of Solomon

  1. What a beautiful tribute you have given to them and I hope it helps sustain her during this time of mourning.

  2. What a bittersweet and uplifting blog…thank you, Judy. Of course, I’ll be praying for Jeff to rest in well-deserved peace, and for Mary Ann to be strong and know that she is surrounded by people who love her and care for her…she is in our Circle.

  3. Yes, she will be in my prayers. And thanks be to God for their presence in your life during those dark years of depression, overwork and unfulfilling marriage.

  4. So sorry to read of such a sad loss. And how wonderful that you captured them in your books.

  5. Wow, touching story. You are one of the best story tellers. God bless. When I read Maryanne character in Brady series first, I had a feeling that it was a real life character in your life, and I am elated they were. Hats off to you, like the sixties commercial, YOU HAVE COME A LONG WAY (BABY). Sorry didn’t mean it that way.

  6. Thank you for sharing another piece of how your word-babies come to life. I’ve always felt that character had a REAL LIFE entity. I will remember your dear friend in all my offerings to the universe. I believe life long friendships say so much about the people who are bonded. So happy they nurtured you and gave you strength. I lived through a alcohol soaked abusive marriage and I know it takes friends on so many levels.

  7. What a beautiful tribute. I am so glad they came into your life when you most needed it. My heartfelt condolenses to Mary Ann

  8. What a moving story. You certainly have had your ups and downs, but have made it. I will mention Mary Ann in my prayers. Thank you for telling us about her and her husband. Good people.

  9. I was a struggling single mother when I was introduced to your Joanna Brady series. Even as a clerical worker, law enforcement employment can be challenging and many authors seem to make light of the work ‘behind the scenes’. I immediately became entranced with Sheriff Brady and her staff. That’s been lots of years ago and I have read everything you have written. The new Ali book is on preorder. I want to thank you for all the wonderful hours of pleasure and validation, both in your books and your wonderful blog (recent discover for me.)

  10. WOW!! That’s why I really like your books…they are so down to earth just like you are in telling us such intimate details of your life. I and I’m sure many readers can relate so much to what you said…for me especially the 5 years it took to finally let go of a toxic man/relationship! Slowly but surely I too have moved on…maybe not as far away as I need to be but I’m trying and my life is better!

    My thoughts and prayers are with you all!

  11. That must have been a very blessed time of life. coming to a new understanding of what life it meant to be, but not having someone push you. I’ve been blessed in my past young life as well and will forever be grateful. I’ll certainly keep Mary Ann in my prayers.

  12. What a powerful story of friendship & love. Thank you for sharing, especially your personal struggles. Yes, prayers added.

  13. ?Friday mornings have become special because of your stories.
    I was pleasantly surprised to find today’s story included the bit about our wonderful MARY ANN SWENSON. As a member of the Claremont United Methodist Church, I am quite aware of the kindness of Mary Ann. She was our bishop for several years. I think she was ordained from the Claremont School of Theology next to our church. She has been the speaker at our UMW Christmas Tea. She is a gracious lady and it is so nice to see her recognized in your story.

  14. What a wonderful friendship – shows God is always in charge. Tomorrow is the first anniversary of my husband’s death. Nutured him through several years of failing heart issued, until 9/11/2020 when that heart just failed. You do make it through with family and a strong faith. Also helps to cry and talk to your love. We always remember his sayings and doings with laughter. As you already know, time heals all hurts. Love your books, and like to see the link with real life in them. Always looking forward to the next book.

  15. Now, forever when I read the Joanna Brady books, I will have faces to remember your wonderful friends.

  16. I have really enjoyed all your books but I enjoy your blog more. You see right into people and you take us with you as you live your life. Thank you for who you are. Prayers to Mary Ann. May her memories be a blessing.

    I’ve been to PeEll, Vancouver, and longview many times. I know that beautiful road down the Columbia.

    L’shana Tova.

  17. I started getting your blog after the Zoom call you did a few months ago. I have learned by now that much that is in your books is based on your own life. I knew as soon as I started reading today’s email that Joanna’s friends were based on your real-life ones. I am so sorry for your loss and for Mary Ann’s as well. I hope that doesn’t get reflected in the next Joanna book. Let Joanna and Marianne keep their happy endings.

  18. You see right into people and you take us with you as you live your life. I have really enjoyed all your books but I enjoy your blog more. Thank you for who you are. Prayers to Mary Ann. May her memories be a blessing.

    I’ve been to PeEll, Vancouver, and Longview many times. I know that beautiful road down the Columbia.

    L’shana Tova.

  19. I am so sorry Jeff is gone. They were a blessing to you. I can tell by their picture that they were such sweet people.

  20. Judith ( J.A.)
    I love your books and your weekly Blog. Your books have gotten me through the tough times of COVID19 and other personal issues. I thank you for that.
    Now it is my turn to give back and let you know that Mary Ann will be in my thoughts and prayers for the foreseeable future.

  21. What a beautiful tribute to your friends. May Jeff rest in peace and both Mary Ann and you be comforted by memories.

  22. As a Threshold Choir singer, I’ve developed the habit of “sending light” to those in need of healing and comfort. Mary Ann Swenson will be included in my ritual for a while.

    I’ve been working my way through the prior blogs since a friend who also reads everything Jance recommended it a couple of weeks ago. It inspired me to spend my monthly book budget on copies to re-read and have around for future bouts of binge-reading escapism.

    Now I have a question for other readers of series books: I’d like to recommend that my book group read a Jance, but how to choose which one? In the past, the group hasn’t embraced single books out of a series with much enthusiasm, especially if the book isn’t the beginning. Comments like “I feel like I was missing too much backstory”. So, does anyone have a suggestion of a book that might be a good stand-alone and hook?

    • If you’ll pardon me, my suggestion would be either Second Watch or Sins of the Fathers. They give you J.P. Beaumont as he is now and also as he was in the past.

      • Good suggestion. What I like about the Beau books is how he has changed over the years and how police procedure has also changed. In the beginning he had a lot of foot work interviewing people, but now they have better tools. He seems to have a problem with rental cars, but that is what makes him so interesting. Things just happen to him.

  23. May Jeff Rest in Peace. Mary Ann, my thoughts and prayers are with you during this terribly difficult time.

  24. No real surprise, but you created yet another exceptional piece! What a joy to read your creations! And what a kind way to ‘hug’ a special friend at a time she can really use it! You have truly evolved your god given talent into a national treasure. The stories you create are always very enjoyable and we look forward to new ones. The stories/remembrances of your life experiences are even more engaging for this reader, possibly in part because I am a Washingtonian. I also am a Christian and grew up in a Methodist church. I have eaten lunch in Pe Ell as well.

    Keep living and loving and writing as long as it continues to bring joy to you. Thank you specifically for this weeks post… I just watched some remembrances of 9/11, prior to reading today’s post so am a bit emotionally atuned, but I was quite moved by your life experiences as you so eloquently described them!

    Smile often, daily!

  25. Yes, you have been thrice-blessed in your life. Mary Anne and Jeff gave you the space, love, and aid to become the person you are today. Just think what a wonderful world this would be if ALL of us had a Mary Anne and Jeff in our lives!

    Thank you so much for sharing this uplifting story.

  26. My prayers are with Mary Ann in her time of loss. What a grand reunion it will soon be. Maranatha!

  27. I wrote to you many years ago asking if Mary Ann and Jeff were the same couple that I knew of and you told me they were. I only met them for our wedding in 1978 when my husband asked her to perform our wedding. He knew her from his church as their youth minister. Unfortunately, she wasn’t allowed to perform the ceremony as only the Pastor of the church could do that so she read a poem by Kihlil Gibran, Love is… . For only meeting her a couple times, she is always remembered and you bring her to light every time you put her in one of your books. I am very saddened to learn of her loss. They showed me a very unique marriage of role reversal that I had never seen before. Prayers to her for strength.

  28. I’m sure everyone reading this morning’s blog is feeling the depth of the loss of Jeff Swenson. Not that we knew him personally but the impact he and Mary Ann had on your life an development as a wife, mother, business person, friend and writer is something that probably touches all of us in some similar way. When the depth of feelings go far beyond what we can express verbally, my friend and I have a saying: “No words”. I think it is fitting to say that here.
    One thought does come to mind which doesn’t begin to convey a sense of understanding but I will share it here.
    A group of us were in Santorini watching the sunset. Everyone was in awe of the beauty and remarked at the beauty of the sunset. One in our group said; “Yes, and what a beautiful sunrise somewhere”. The light is out here, but it must be glowing somewhere.

  29. What an wonderful tribute to Jeff and Mary Anne. You are all so blessed to have met and been in each other’s lives. I know you will be there for Mary Anne and she will definitely be in my prayers.

  30. Thank you for beginning my morning with tears. I love your books and I love Marianne and Jeff. I’m so glad to learn you had Mary Ann and Jeff in your life when you really needed them. Friends like this give us support and help to make our lives complete.

  31. You are blessed to have had such a wonderful couple in your life. What a lovely tribute. My prayers are with Mary Ann as she goes through this difficult time.

  32. Thank you for that beautiful story of MaryAnn and Jeff. I know what it is like to have of your light go out. In 2016 I lost my love unexpectedly after 43 years of marriage. I know that MaryAnn will have days when memories will leak down her cheeks. I still have those days. Please send her my prayers of comfort and peace and to let those memories leak out always!

  33. I knew at once this dear woman had to be the prototype for Joanna’s Marianne, one of my favorite characters. Of course I’ll pray for strength and courage for her–and for you, too. What a loss.

  34. What a beautiful tribute to an amazing couple. Sending love and light to Mary Ann during this difficult time.

  35. I am walking in Mary Ann’s shoes right now as my other half passed August 8,2021. We would have celebrated our 53rd anniversary this September 27th . I know how alone and lost she is feeling and I will keep her in my prayers. It is only by the grace of God that I can navigate this vacuum.

  36. Dear Judy,
    This has to be one of the loveliest blogs or tributes to anyone you have ever written. To see a picture of the real and original Mary Ann and Jeff is such a thrill. Thank you for telling us the details of your struggles & your determination to sell insurance way back then. And thanks for admitting it took a long time to cut ties with an alcoholic husband. It took me many years to escape from a nightmare marriage. God bless Mary Ann as she settles in to a different life. She’s in my prayers already.

  37. You wrote such a wonderful piece. Sounds as if he was a great guy. She was very lucky in her spouse. I feel that I was very lucky in mine but, we only have 48 years in.

  38. Judy,
    I’m so sorry for the loss of your dear friend. As we age, I’m 76, this becomes more prevalent, none-the-less, is painful for all of us. Thank God for our memories of those who’ve passed!

    We met briefly in a book store in Marysville, WA years ago, our personal stories, “Did I mention he was an alcoholic?” husband and other personal life experiences are very similar. People waiting to have their books signed became impatient, so we were unable to finish our conversation, unfortunately. I’ve been a devoted follower of you and the J.P. Beaumont series for years – we’ve all grown older together. When my new husband and I left the book store, I saw your dear husband patiently waiting for you in the car – we’re so fortunate to have found such caring, patient, attentive and loving spouses after wading through years of heartache and disappointment. I’m so happy that he’s still by your side, as is my husband, and that you are well. I suffered the loss of my only child, a son who died by suicide, in 2002, and have lost many friends over the years, as we all travel life’s road. I’ll pray for your friend – she’s a very strong woman, and a tincture of time will help her to find her new normal, remembering the wonderful times and celebrating the wonderful life they had together.
    Lyn Wessman

  39. How ironic. As I have mentioned before, I have all of your books with the exception of the poetry which I have not been able to find in paper back, but I shall persevere. Any way, I just finished the 3rd reading of Ali Reynolds and this moning I picked up Desert Heat to start Joanna’s 3rd reading. The dedication is “To the real Jeff and MaryAnn…..”

    • After the Fire has never been published in paperback. In the eighties there was a small chapbook edition done by Lance Publications, but that was poetry only. The essays accompanying each poem were added later and are in the hardback version.

    • Juanita, “After the Fire” is worth every penny of a hard cover copy. It’s worth it’s weight in gold. Well, more really as it is a small book. 🙂

  40. I am praying for her. I lost my beloved husband of 43 years August 29th and some days I can hardly put one foot in front of the other.

  41. What a great way to honor them as characters in your books! Prayers for her and you and your families in this sad loss! Love your books!

  42. Praying for Mary Ann and for you and all your family. Understanding love and loss, I also understand the accompanying grief. Hope you feel surrounded and filled with support and love as you make your way through this part of life. Many blessings to you Mary Ann. We all need support and love right now

  43. A lovely tribute, and his obituary gives more information about their well lived lives together. Served in Navy in Vietnam so I also thank him for his service.

  44. She is in my prayers. Thank you for introducing us, again, to this wonderful couple.

  45. I was deeply touched by today’s blog. What a lovely tribute to your dear friends and a reminder for all of us of a certain age to cherish our spouses because we never know how long we have until “til death do us part”. My sincerest condolences

  46. I am so sorry for your loss and Mary Ann’s as well. It is wonderful to know the background, and I appreciate you sharing. May she have as much peace as possible treading new and treacherous waters. Been there, done that, have the tee shirt.

  47. Please know I was not trying to be flip with previous comments, but I am hoping she can find some laughter in the days ahead. When my husband died, I was so delighted the next day to find myself laughing at something. Oh, my life will return to a new normal, and there will be sad times and thanks be to God, happy times as well.

  48. I immediately recognized this loving couple from your Joanna Brady books. What a beautiful tribute you have written. May Jeff rest in peace and Mary Ann be sustained with the strength she needs to carry on without him.

  49. This piece made me misty eyed. What wonderful people. My thoughts are with Mary Ann in her time of sorrow. Sadly, that’s the eventual price of love. But it would be sadder to never have that love at all.


  51. I’ve always loved your characters of Marianne and Jeff. Learning the background of the real people behind them, I’m crying. Having met you and heard bits your life story many times, I’m so thankful to them for helping you through that dark period. For helping you see a light at the end of a dark tunnel. Mary Ann is in my prayers. And you, as well.

    My mother was also Mary Ann. She and dad had been married 60 years when she made her journey to heaven six years ago. You may have met my dad, who moved in with us when mom passed. In those last six years, dad slowly progressed from partially blind to fully blind; worsened slowly with dementia until he didn’t remember things from minute to minute; and lost mobility from heart failure. All he wanted was to join mom in heaven. He got his wish on August 20. He was 91. The end came quickly and he left quietly in his sleep. Yesterday, we held his Celebration of Life in Bellevue. It was lovely and I got to see a few childhood friends and lots of family. I still start to get his lunch or check on him or start his laundry… It’s going to take some time.

  52. Prayers for Mary Ann, and also you. Thanks for asking that of your readers. Prayers always give hope and comfort.

  53. That is the meaning of true friendship, helping each other when you need it and you had that with Mary Ann, my hugs to you both.

  54. Mary Ann, I feel like I already know you. The story of your loving marriage has been gifted to us by our favorite author: it will live on and on. May God grant you peace in this difficult time.

  55. Adding to my too long prayer list as so many are in need lately. Thank you for sharing their place in your life and in your books.

  56. Very sad that he is gone, but they had so many good times. Not as sad as when someone runs off and leaves you, Wishing he could have been the man you needed.

  57. So sorry to hear about the passing of Jeff. mary Ann will be in my prayers. My husband and I moved the end of April from Seattle Wa to Sun City Arizona and moved in with my sister to help her out after she lost her husband in October.

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