Memorial planned for ex-DPW chief believed to have jumped from French King Bridge

John Bean was former DPW boss for Greenfield

  • BEAN

  • John Bean poses in a family photo. Contributed photo

Recorder Staff
Published: 5/25/2016 10:49:56 PM

GREENFIELD — A memorial service is planned for Sunday at 2 p.m. at Second Congregational Church for former Greenfield Public Works Superintendent John F. Bean, who apparently took his life last week, according to his wife of 31 years, Jan Jee Bean.

The 66-year-old Greenfield native, who had worked for the DPW from 1974 until 2007 — including 21 years as DPW superintendent, is believed to have committed suicide on May 18 at the French King Bridge, said Mrs. Bean, although his body has not yet been recovered by police.

“I have no doubt what happened,” said Mrs. Bean, who had returned home with her husband on May 1 from Florida, where they’d spent the past four winters. He had been depressed and anxious while away — enough so that he had spent five days hospitalized and been placed on medication for the conditions he had been suffering for months, she said.

“It was an ongoing issue. We’d been noting it a while. He didn’t feel like himself,” she said of a depression that had also surfaced on their first Florida trip, after his retirement from public works director in Arlington. “This time, he was feeling worse. By February, he was feeling suicidal.”

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, anti-anxiety, anti-depresssant and insomnia medications were tried, Ms. Bean said, and her husband also received support from their co-counseling friends back home.

“He was just alarmed,” she recalled. “He said, ‘Everything alarms me.’”

‘He could do anything’

A civil engineer who she said “could do anything,” Bean “was a problem solver. He could do anything. That was his identity.”

After earning his bachelor’s degree from the Universiuty of Massachusetts in Amherst and becoming a registered professional engineer, Bean earned an associate’s degree at Greenfield Community College in computer technology

He used that computing skill while Greenfield DPW superintendent to create database software that was used to track projects and staff, and which he’d parlayed into database consulting used at the Shelburne Falls Senior Center — and again, during their recent Florida stay, for the Pinellas County Extension Service.

And yet, recalled his wife, everything from figuring out their taxes and paying their bills to setting the thermostat seemed difficult.

“Everything seemed overwhelming to him,” she said. “He worried he had some kind of cognitive loss. He took a lot of pride that he could do a lot of things,” whether it was creating wood sculptures, doing fully realized drawings and elaborate paper cuts or creating a backyard shed with charming features like a cupola from lumber salvaged from a house renovation job.

The couple wanted his mental acuity tested, but had to wait because of medication effects, which doctors here lowered dosage of after he returned from Florida.

Things seemed to be getting better here since he was happy to be home, said Ms. Bean, with her husband waking up one night to say he was beginning to feel like himself.

He promised that he would not attempt suicide.

Yet things came to a head after they returned home and faced problems with the bathroom plumbing in their Linden Avenue home. When it turned out the morning of May 18 that a plumber’s visit, which they’d planned to fix the sink, was actually scheduled for the following week, Mrs. Bean said the couple thought they would use the day to deal with the flooring that also needed to be replaced.

“He went to measure the floor so we could see how much linoleum we needed,” said Mrs. Bean, who added that her husband was grunting in frustration as he had to measure the space multiple times, discouraged at one point that he had miscalculated placement of the bathtub.

“So we did it together,” she said. “I could see he was really upset, so we lay down in bed and had a conversation. I said, ‘Tell me what’s going on.’ He could hardly get the words out, he was so sunk in what his thoughts were. I was telling him how much him I loved him, and he started crying. I said, ‘What do you need to face this, to manage this?’ He said, “I’m having cognitive decline.”

Mrs. Bean felt encouraged and decided she needed to go to Turners Falls to order their linoleum, with her husband saying he thought he would go shopping.

When she returned home, she was surprised he wasn’t there and began making lunch. He’d left his cell phone at home, she noticed. And then she remembered how her husband had come out to the car to say goodbye as she was about to drive off earlier.

“He knocked on my window and kissed me and said, “Thank you. I love you.”

With that realization, she said, “I thought, ‘Oh my god!”

And she drove up Leyden Road, looking for him at places he liked to walk around the Green River, near the Eunice Williams Covered Bridge. She didn’t know that a few minutes later, police would tell her that her husband’s Prius was found parked, unlocked, with its keys inside, at the French King Bridge.

“I felt really sick,” she remembered, as she headed home and then saw two police cars approaching. “They parked in front of the house. Two women police officers got out. I fell down on the grass. I knew.”

‘A spirit out there’

Later, as her close friends began to gather, she learned that police checked the scene with a German shepherd and then a bloodhound to reveal that John Bean’s scent ended abruptly at the bridge.

“There was no doubt,” she concluded, even though members of the State Police and Northfield dive teams have been unable to find his remains, and in the absence of conclusive proof, officials have declined to rule Bean dead.

Sunday’s memorial service will be an opportunity to remember him as he was. When his body is found, Mrs. Bean plans to have him cremated.

“He was a beautiful human being,” said Mrs. Bean, who had met her future husband as a pen-pal, while she was living in South Carolina. “I don’t care what they find in the river. To me, that’s not him, really. … If he has a spirit out there, I’m talking to that. People hug me and we cry together, and tell me things about him they loved, what a great-hearted person he was. He put his warmth into this little family.”

The couple, who had been together for 33 years, had birthdays one day apart, said Mrs. Bean, who called him “a Renaissance man” who loved card games and the ancient Chinese game “Go,” loved intricate doodles and even kept a notebook when she first met him of all of the books he’d read, from the Old English classic “Beowulf” to science fiction and nonfiction.

Through her sense of loss and shock, Mrs. Bean stressed the need for people to reach out for the right help in fighting depression.

“It can take a while to find the right therapist, one who you feel a close and caring connection with,” she said. “It can take a while to find a group to participate in and to figure out how to pay for the help you need, to find a program and routine you can commit to. Don’t give up. Know that it is a result of depression that your mind is telling you there is no hope or that your family is better off without you. There is always hope.”

Bean’s daughters, Henken, 30, and Hallie, 26, recall their father playing the guitar and singing Bob Dylan and Beatles songs to them when they were little. He would play drawing games with them, and he taught them how to write computer code, a skill they both still use in their work as designers for Web and mobile applications in Philadelphia.

“He was a fantastic dad,” says Hallie, holding back tears as she recalls how she learned about his death from her boyfriend, who’d gotten a call from her mother so that he could break the news to her in person. “I appreciate how much he fostered our creativity. He was so supportive in everything we did. It gave me lot happiness to know he was proud of me.”

Henken, who then learned from her sister, recalled her father cooking up creative meals every evening, singing, and even making up a little game about the Civil War when she was first learning about it as a child.

“He instilled a love of art and technology in us,” she says. “It was just truly how loving he was, how kind and gentle and creative, imaginative and playful and goofy he was … and how attentive he was, how present he’d be.”

Sandy Shields, who was hired by the DPW on the same day as Bean in July 1974 and worked side-by-side with him until he left in 2007 to work in Arlington, when she succeeded him as DPW superintendent, recalled him as “always, always very intelligent and extremely fair. He was a great mentor and teacher.”

When desktop computers began appearing in the early 1980s, “he foresaw it was going to be the way of the world,” and even told Shields, who was then working at the town’s wastewater treatment plant, to redo as a spreadsheet a report she’d handed in.

“He always wanted to bring out the best in everybody,” she recalled. “He gave me a lot of responsibility. He always tried to look for the best in people.”

Bean coined the phrase “customer service opportunity,” recalled DPW Office Manager Janine Greaves, who worked with him for 20 years and still uses the phrase to describe how he considered the DPW as a community service.

“He was the most wonderful boss anyone could ask for,” she said. “He cared for the employees. You could go to him with anything.”

She recalled Bean having “a duct-tape wallet: You don’t get any more down-to-earth than that.”

“John was one of those town leaders you feel so grateful just to work with,” recalled Sandy Thomas, former director of the Greenfield Energy Park. “He was always available to our team: participating in meetings, always offering on-target guidance and great advice. His years of experience in public works were invaluable to long-term decision-making. Always generous of spirit, John was a delight to be around. What a great loss for our community.”

In addition to his immediate family, Bean is survived by a brother, Tom, of Concord, a sister, Judy Bean Gemma of Hopkinton, and their families.

You can reach Richie Davis at:

or 413-772-0261, ext. 269


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