Friday, February 27, 2009

Honoring the 100th Birthday of My Grandpa, Jack Quarrier

Today I would like to honor the 100th birthday of my paternal grandfather, Jack Weems Quarrier. Grandpa was born at home on February 27, 1909, the day after his mother's 20th birthday. Unfortunately he didn't live to see a full century of life. Grandpa passed away on August 6, 1977, when he was 68 and I was almost 14 years old.

I did not know my grandfather very well, so several weeks ago, I asked my father, aunt, uncle and siblings  to share some of their memories.  I learned so many things I hadn’t known before. Even if you aren’t a relative of his, some of the historical details might be pretty interesting to you. This could also be an encouragement for some of you to find out more about your own family history while you still have the opportunity.

Grandpa’s father, John Chilton Quarrier, was the editor of a newspaper. His mother, Olive Blanche (Weems) Quarrier, was the daughter of a Confederate sharpshooter (sniper), Charles Chilton Weems, whose usual target was Union river boat captains. She was born on February 26, 1889, at her uncle’s Oak Lawn plantation in Bayou Teche, New Iberia, Louisiana. John met Olive when he was working as a telegraph operator for a railroad. My dad noted that there is a possibility that they were distant cousins since Chilton is a last and middle name of folks on both the Quarrier and Weems sides of the family. Also, in the 1700s, the Weems and Quarrier families both came from County Fife in Scotland, which is near the English border. (My dad has often reminded me that the Scots and English carried on their centuries old feud in America; during the Civil War, those of Scottish ancestry were quite often Confederates, reminiscent of the Scots’ desire for independence from English rule. It should also be noted that my Scottish ancestor Alexander Quarrier, arriving in the American colonies in 1774, fought for the patriots against the English during the Revolution.) In 1825, the Weems clan moved from Maryland to Louisiana to raise sugar.
Jack was born in Galveston, Texas, and was baptized Catholic. His paternal grandfather, Dana Ward Quarrier, had studied to be an Episcopal minister, but apparently Dana’s wife, Sallie Hogan Quarrier, was Irish Catholic. I'm not sure if he was raised Catholic, though. Jack had three sisters: Maxine (born in 1907), Geraldine (1913), and Olive May, nicknamed "O.M." (1919).

Jack actually grew up in Kansas City and lived there for the rest of his life. He attended Southwest High School there, but did not graduate. He left home at age 15 to work for the Associated Press as the world’s youngest commercial telegraph operator. I think he was based at the offices of the Emporia Gazette. Later, he switched to teletype operation from Morse code retransmit. Teletype had a paper tape punch which could be torn off, hung up, and put into another teletype machine to be read again. He eventually had to work on computer terminals, which annoyed him so much that he quit in the early 1970s, after nearly 50 years in the business. He had worked all the way through the Depression, which is quite notable.

Jack met my grandmother, Margaret Brazier, when he was working in the building that housed both the AP offices and the Kansas City Star newspaper, where she was a reporter. She had graduated from the University of Kansas in 1930 with a degree in Journalism. She was always very refined and proper, and thought that Jack himself would someday become a writer. They had three children, but divorced in 1945 when my father was 8. Upon her marriage to Dr. Driggs in 1948, Margaret and the three children moved to New York City, so my dad didn’t see his father quite as often. What I hadn’t known was that my grandfather also remarried from 1954 to 1956 to a bank official named Elleen Hobbs Moroney. My dad doesn’t remember ever meeting her. The picture to the left was taken at my parents' wedding on Christmas Day, 1957. Grandpa Quarrier is at the upper left.

My own memories of my grandfather are sketchy. When I was almost five, our family moved from Chicago (where I was born) to Kansas City, where my grandfather lived. I remember our family going out to dinner at a steakhouse with him several times. He came to my kindergarten graduation and gave me a lavender colored stuffed cow that played “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” when you pulled the cord.

One Christmas, Grandpa gave Dancerina dolls to my sister Barb and me. You could push on their crowns and they would dance. Barb recalls, “I VIVIDLY remember the Dancerina dolls. I wanted one SOOOO badly and was beyond thrilled when he gave them to us. I also remember going to a baseball game with him (KC Royals?) He was a huge baseball fan.”

I vaguely remember meeting my great grandfather, John Chilton Quarrier, when we lived in Kansas City, and only then because my brother John wrote that, “Our great grandfather did come to see us a number of times when we lived in KC. He bought me a trumpet and got me started with private lessons. He didn't have much of a lip left but I remember him playing "Red Roses for a Blue Lady."”

After we moved to California in 1971, Grandpa Quarrier would come to visit and take us to Denny’s, where I would order a French dip sandwich and Jello blocks with whipped cream. I think we once took a day trip to Alcatraz, Fisherman’s Wharf, China Town, and other San Francisco sights with him, too. Barb says, “I remember a time he came to visit us in California, and we went to the Earthquake museum with him. There was a ride that made it seem as if you were in an earthquake.”

In April 1977, we moved to Maryland. That summer, my dad had to fly to Chicago for a business trip. Since my brother John was just then moving to Maryland from San Francisco, Dad suggested that they meet in Kansas City for a four generation reunion there with my grandfather and great grandfather. John noted, “When we got to see Great Grandpa his mind was not as sharp. He introduced himself to me and seemed quite confused that I had the same name. I'm not sure he ever really grasped who I was on that visit.” I had asked my dad if I could go with him on this trip to Kansas City because I wanted to see Grandpa. He said no, because Grandpa would be flying out to see us in August. I protested, “But what if he dies before then?” Ironically, Grandpa had a fatal heart attack on the airplane flying East to see us. We got the call when we had just arrived home from a full day at Dad’s company picnic and then seeing the movie “New York, New York.” We packed the car and left the next morning to drive to Kansas City for the funeral. At the funeral I saw my great grandfather, who died two years later. One random thing that I recall from that trip to Kansas City is that it was the first time I ever saw a bar code scanner in a grocery store.

We cleaned out Grandpa’s apartment while we were there.  The thing that struck me was that he had a bazillion books. We brought many of them home, marking each with the initials JWQ inside the front cover. I still have his Revised Standard Version Bible, which is now displayed on a bookstand in my front hallway. Grandpa may not have had much of a formal education, but he sure loved to read great books! He also enjoyed classical and jazz music and had quite a record collection.

I wish I could have talked to my grandfather more. There are a lot of questions I would have asked him. I believe in being aware of our stories, about our own lives and about those who have gone before us. In so many ways, it is where we have come from, even before own births, that shapes who we are, how we think, and what we pass on down to the next generation.

Virginia Knowles


  1. Any relation? I've got Quarriers in my family tree.


    - John Blackwell Chilton

  2. Just for the interested...

    John Blackwell Chilton is my fifth cousin. Our mutual ancestors are Dr. Samuel Blackwell Chilton and his first cousin Lucinda Blackwell, who married each other in 1795. The Chiltons and Quarriers also intermarried twice, and his line of ancestry through that is from a first cousin marriage, too.

  3. I just stumbled across your blog just now. I, too, am descended of Alexander Quarrier who came to the US in 1774.


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