In Memoriam: Jane Highsaw

Former Mount Vernon College professor maintained lifelong friendships with students and colleagues.

Dianne Sherman and Jane Highsaw celebrate Ms. Highsaw's 95th birthday. (Courtesy Dianne Sherman)
Dianne Sherman and Jane Highsaw celebrate Ms. Highsaw's 95th birthday. (Courtesy Dianne Sherman)
February 12, 2018

By Ruth Steinhardt

Jane Highsaw, former chair of the political science department at Mount Vernon College, passed away last month in Chevy Chase, Md. She was 96.

Ms. Highsaw was a graduate of Oberlin College and the University of Minnesota. She worked with the Bureau of the Budget, predecessor to the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, during World War II, after which she joined the Bureau of United Nations Affairs in the State Department. She began teaching American government and politics at Mount Vernon in 1958 while raising her three children.

During her time at Mount Vernon, Ms. Highsaw not only taught politics but also led a six-week study abroad class on ancient Mediterranean history—a whirlwind educational tour of Italy and Greece. Jennifer Gordon, who graduated from Mount Vernon in 1974, and Dianne Sherman, who graduated in 1976, were participants in the program in 1973. Both remembered laughter and enthusiastic discussions about history, politics and culture over glasses of ouzo. And both would remain friends with Ms. Highsaw after graduating.

“She enthusiastically shared her detailed knowledge of local history and culture, and handled students—and their myriad issues—with compassion,” said Ms. Sherman, who now serves on the GW Alumni Association Board of Directors and teaches a course at the Elliott School of International Affairs.

Ms. Sherman said she considered Ms. Highsaw one of her most important role models and mentors.

“As a woman graduating in the 1970s, I could not have realized my professional and personal aspirations without the support of mentors, especially female mentors,” Ms. Sherman said. “[Ms. Highsaw advocated] for women and progressive causes. She had a wonderful marriage and family. She was a friend to many. She loved the outdoors, tennis, bridge and birding. And at her core was a caring and skilled teacher.”

Ms. Gordon remembered Ms. Highsaw’s “extraordinary accomplishments” but also her “gentleness and calm and wry sense of humor.”

“It was her love of ancient Greek and Roman history where we had our first meeting of the minds,” Ms. Gordon said.  “She was so conversational in her teaching, and it just enthralled me.  But our relationship went far beyond the classroom after I graduated.  Over the years, we’d correspond, and I visited whenever possible.  We just loved to talk current events and muse over the silliness of the human condition.”

Ms. Highsaw’s peers and colleagues agreed.

“I met Jane Highsaw in my first year in Washington and in my first year of teaching at Mount Vernon College,” said Valerie Vesser, a former associate professor of English at Mount Vernon. “She was warmhearted, welcoming, unfailingly kind to colleagues and to students, who responded enthusiastically to her skilled teaching.”

Ms. Vesser remembered the loneliness of that time, when her husband was serving in Vietnam, and she was a recent transplant from the U.K. with two small children to care for.

“One day, I must have looked a bit glum because [Jane] said, ‘I'm taking you to see one of the great sights in a Washington spring,’ and she drove me through Chevy Chase to see the cherry blossoms,” Ms. Vesser remembered. “No wonder that one kind act has stayed in my mind for over 50 years. ‘So shines a good deed in a naughty world,’ Shakespeare wrote in Merchant of Venice; Jane's life was full of good deeds and wisdom and she taught by example.”

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