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Emma Jean Mettam

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September 19, 1931  - February 16, 2024

Emma Jean Mettam (Jean Mettam), 92, of Potomac, MD, passed away on February 16, 2024.

          Loving wife to Peter John Mettam, Jean was born on September 19, 1931 in Glen Alice, TN, the daughter of the late Allen and Bonnie Kirk. Raised in the small town of Rockwood, Tennessee, the oldest of four children to the owner of the local General Store during the Great Depression, Jean was more privileged than many in her relatively poor rural community. In her public high school she was lucky to have been mentored by some young women teachers to have high hopes for college and who inspired her to share her privilege with those less fortunate. 

          Jean went on to study Home Economics at the University of Tennessee (UT) and continued through a Master’s Program, unusual for a woman at that time. Throughout her Master’s studies she worked through the Agricultural Extension program, with families and communities in rural and urban areas of western Tennessee. Many of these communities were unaccustomed to being helped by a white woman. She had an affinity for helping women and underprivileged communities to improve their quality of life through education.  Jean was a member of Omicron Nu, an honor society that was based on the recognition that women did not have the same advantages and opportunities as men and aspired to set new and higher standards for emerging programs in Home Economics.

          Jean was excited about a long-anticipated trip to explore Europe after which she was slated to return to UT and take on a teaching position in the Home Economics Department. While in Europe, she met Peter through a meeting arranged by a mutual friend and had their first date, a steak dinner, high up in the Atomium – a giant replica of a molecule and centerpiece of the 1958 Brussels World Fair in Belgium. As they say, the rest is history. 

          Jean returned to the U.S. and reconnected with Peter, who had recently moved to Atlanta, Georgia, from his home in England as part of the ‘brain drain’ of British scientists and engineers, to work as an Aeronautical Engineer. Shortly after they married, they moved to Washington DC for Peter’s new job at Booz Allen Applied Research (they would joke that Peter ‘works for Booz’). They moved into a small Tudor-style home in the Battery Park neighborhood of Bethesda, just a short walk from Peter’s office.

          A couple of kids followed and the family started to grow, but Jean’s interest in her own career could not be curtailed. After volunteering her skills in SE Washington neighborhood schools, Jean was introduced to an opportunity to teach at Howard University, the top Historically Black College and University (HBCU) in the country. Jean worked in the new School of Human Ecology, which grew out of the traditional Home Economics program and offered a new interdisciplinary academic program. Jean offered courses under the Microenvironmental Studies and Design program in fashion fundamentals, textiles, and interior design. Jean was also part of a team that collected and preserved traditional African textiles and fashion. 

          Outside of her professional endeavors, Jean was active with the Washington Gourmet Club and regularly hosted visitors and dignitaries from other countries through the State Department. 

          After their third son was born (side-note… Jean was longing to share her passions with a daughter), they decided to move out to ‘the country’ to Potomac, Maryland. There, a brand new ‘open school’ had just started up and was rated as one of the top ten schools in the country by Ladies Home Journal magazine. Education philosophy was very important to both Jean and Peter.

          The family grew as the three boys grew up and moved on with their lives. Jean retired from teaching at Howard in 1988 and started working in Real Estate where she applied her love of architecture and working with people. She also found great joy in working with and mentoring younger agents as they grew their careers.

          Jean and Peter continued to live in their house in Potomac since Peter retired in 1986, and have enjoyed the house that has (as Jean wrote in 1968): “ . . . large  stands of trees on either side of the house and (the boys) could almost go out anytime and pick up a turtle, frog, lizard, mole, etc. There is also a creek about 250 feet away which has crayfish. Fun!”

          As the boys moved away and started their own families, Jean finally got what she always wanted…. Girls! Jean’s three granddaughters were spoiled by their mentor-grandmother who shared with them her love of cooking fine food, interior design and fashion. 

          Jean leaves many fond memories but, more importantly, her love of people and her ability to help others strive to improve their own quality of life through education and design lives on. In many ways, Jean was an unintentional trailblazer setting an example through her actions rather than words.

          Along with her husband, Peter John Mettam, Jean is survived by her sons: Kirk Ian Mettam (Lisa Couturier), Terry Donevan Mettam, and John Kieth Mettam (Laura Cromwell). Jean’s love of education and design carries on through her three granddaughters (her ‘girls’): Cara Mettam-Shideler, Madeleine (Fossey) Mettam and Lucienne Mettam. 

          Jean was a sister to three deceased siblings James (Buddy) Kirk, Wilma (Sis) Smith, and Lucile Herndon.

          In lieu of flowers the family asks that donations be made in her memory to Howard University School of Art/ Fashion, Textiles and Interior Design. 

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From: The Hilton Family

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