Jeanette Armentrout Thomas, the widow of legendary Disney animator Frank Thomas (one of Walt Disney’s renowned “Nine Old Men”), died Saturday at Huntington Hospital in Pasadena, California from age-related illnesses. She was 91.
She was prominently featured in several documentaries directed by her son Theodore (“Ted”), including Frank & Ollie and Walt and El Grupo. She was also a longtime docent at Pasadena’s historic Gamble House, and authored an acclaimed 1989 book called Images of the Gamble House: Masterwork of Greene & Greene.
“My mother was beautiful, poised, accomplished, but would become a bit incredulous if we would point out any of these qualities to her,” recalled her son.
“She took a deep, empathetic interest in the lives of her children, relatives, and friends, and our triumphs as well as our stumbles were felt just as much by her. My parents took joy in having found each other, and certainly they helped to make life stimulating and rewarding for all of us in their sphere.”
Jeanette Armentrout was born in 1921 and raised in Greeley, Colorado, where her father was vice-president of the Colorado State College of Education, now the University of Northern Colorado. She attended Stephens College in Columbus, Missouri, and then received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Stanford University. She taught in California secondary schools and at the Colorado State College of Education during the Second World War, and in 1946 married veteran Disney animator Frank Thomas.
In his 2001 Disney Editions book Walt Disney’s Nine Old Men & the Art of Animation, Oscar-winning animation director/author John Canemaker recounted Frank’s courtship with Jeanette and the young animator’s impressions of his future bride:
“In 1945, after the war, she took a job teaching high school in Redwood City, California, near Palo Alto,” says Thomas, who was smitten after their initial meeting and had ‘written letters to her all along.’ Now that Ms. Armentrout was suddenly ‘in the back yard’ (that is, in California) their letters became more specific. ‘It took me three and a half years, and a war, and teaching, to realize that he was pretty special,’ says Jeanette.”
“Thomas went on to send Jeanette a musical piece he had written titled ‘Concerto by Me,’ which friends told him sounded like a proposal. ‘Good things happened pretty fast after that,’ recalled Thomas, who stretched a fifty-mile limit three-day pass to travel 200 miles to visit Jeanette. ‘So we proposed to each other and we decided what we were going to do,’ he said.”
Thomas was discharged from the service in January 1946, and the couple was married in Colorado on February 16. They were married for 58 years up until Frank’s death in 2004.
In addition to being the mother of four children, Ann, Gregg, Theodore, and Douglas, Jeanette was extensively involved with the PTA, the American Field Service, taught music in the La Cañada schools, and was an early and active docent at the Gamble House in Pasadena. Her 1989 book Images of the Gamble House showcased an extensive and intimate knowledge of the history and architecture of the Craftsman masterpiece. For her efforts, she received awards from both the Gamble House Docent Council, and the City of Pasadena.
She is survived by her son Gregg, her son Theodore and his wife, Kuniko Okubo, her son Douglas and his husband, Dan Poirier, three grandchildren, and one great-granddaughter. Funeral services will be private. Plans for a life celebration will be announced later.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the Young Musicians Foundation, 195 South Beverly Drive, Suite 414, Beverly Hills, CA 90212, (310) 859‑7668, or www.ymf.org/donate.