OBITUARY: Jean Cotten Blum

May 25, 2018
By Marcy Shortuse

Jeanne Cotten Blum, a pioneering female executive at IBM and an arts and civic leader in Brooklyn and New York, died Wednesday May 16, 2108. She was 98.
Born Nov. 24, 1919 in New York, Jeanne Cotten Blum was the daughter of Madeline Lynch Cotten and Chester Cotten, a Colorado civil engineer. As a child, she and her late sister Patricia Cotten Isbrandtsen lived in Barcelona, Spain and later Kobe, Japan, where from 1925-27 he worked on public works projects, including roads.
After the family returned to the United States and Chicago, her parents divorced. The girls and her mother moved to Brooklyn, where her mother sold insurance. She attended Brooklyn’s P.S. 8, and then Packer Collegiate Institute. She attended Swarthmore College where she majored in chemistry. She later graduated from the Packer Collegiate Institute.
She joined International Business Machines in March, 1939 at the World’s Fair where she was hired as a demonstrator at the IBM Gallery of Science and Art. She stayed at IBM for over a dozen years, first as a systems servicewoman, and later moving to the Commercial Research Department at the Endicott complex. She later joined the sales promotion department, where she handled placements in IBM’s key punch classes. In 1942, she moved to the IBM World Headquarters on Madison Avenue, where she was Personnel Manager and later assistant to the General Sales Manager and was president of the IBM Club. She and the handful of other early women at IBM included friend and later Connecticut neighbor Jane Haislip Creel, a pioneer female vice president at IBM. She left IBM in 1952 for marriage; at the time post-World War II rules dictated that married women could not continue working at IBM if men needed the jobs.
In 1952, she married John Fairfield Thompson Jr., the son of International Nickel founder Dr. John Fairfield Thompson. Thompson Jr. was a longtime friend, associate and treasurer for the late Charles Engelhard Jr. During this time, she traveled in Thompson’s Democratic political circles, including Sen. Mike Mansfield.
She was active in civic affairs in Brooklyn; from 1949 to 1950, she was the president of the Brooklyn Junior League. She served on the Board of Trustees of the Brooklyn Museum from 1971 to 1986 and on its Board of Advisors from 2003 to 2005. Her 1970 portrait by former Museum Director Thomas Buechner was in 2013 donated to the museum.
On Jan. 2, 1971, she married John Robert Halsey Blum, a widower whose late wife, Susanne Delatour Blum, had been a friend in Brooklyn Heights. Blum, an attorney and banker, had seven children, four of them younger than age 10. She quickly adopted the new role of mother, moving the family from Columbia Heights to Riverside, Conn. next door to her sister, Patricia, who was married to shipping executive Jakob Isbrandtsen, who also had seven children with roughly the same age spans.
After her first husband’s death, she inherited Thompson’s Wytheville, Va. registered angus cattle operation, Fairfield Farms, which she and Jack continued to operate. The Blums later purchased a second farm in Sharon, Conn., the Tory Hill home of the original Hotchkiss family. She and husband Jack Blum continued to operate the Fairfield herd until 2010, when the Connecticut Fairfield Farms operation was bargain sold to The Hotchkiss School to become their organic farm-to-table operation, and educational farm.
In Connecticut, she continued a concern for local social and environmental causes, including serving 16 years as director of the Sharon Hospital; she also served as trustee of the Cary Institute for Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, N.Y. She and her husband Jack also invested in the nearby town of Millerton, N.Y. where they purchased the local farm supply company Millerton Feed, and supported historic preservation projects in Millerton including the restoration and rescue of the town’s former New York Central railroad terminal and nearby historic Silk City Diner. The Blums later endowed the Jeanne Cotten Blum ’40 Scholarship at Swarthmore, which supports students with academic merit and financial need.
She was a member of the Colony Club, Cosmopolitan Club and Millbrook Garden Club. She returned to her childhood Catholic faith in her later years at her residence in Boca Grande, Florida, where she joined the Our Lady of Mercy parish under the Rev. Rev. Jerome A. Carosella.
She is survived by her husband of 48 years, Jack, and their children Anne Blum Brengle (George), John R.H. Blum Jr., Sara Blum Hadden (David), Jane Blum Burdett (Gregg), Robin Blum Wiseman, Alice Blum Pollard (Garland) and Suzette Blum Devine (John) as well as 18 grand-children and 8 great grandchildren.
The Connecticut burial will be private, and the family and friends will celebrate her life at an upcoming memorial service in Lakeville, Conn. In lieu of flowers, a donation may be made to the The Jeanne Cotten Blum ’40 Scholarship at Swarthmore or The Brooklyn Museum.