Jean Andrews 1923–2010
Jean Andrews, PhD, known so widely as “The Pepper Lady®” that she had the name registered,1 passed away on January 7, 2010, at the age of 86.2 Dr. Andrews is well-known for her internationally acclaimed books on the genus Capsicum, some of which feature her pepper expertise, photography, botanical drawings, and/or paintings. Her best-selling book Peppers: The Domesticated Capsicums, published by University of Texas (UT) Press in 1984 and later re-published in 2 subsequent editions, includes scientific, cultural, and historical information about peppers.
Aside from peppers, Dr. Andrews was recognized for her books on shells and wildflowers. Such books included The Texas Bluebonnet (UT Press, 1986), Sea Shells of the Texas Coast (UT Press, 1972), and American Wildflower Florilegium (University of North Texas [UNT] Press, 1992).
Dr. Andrews was born in Kingsville, Texas in 1923.2 She began collecting chiltepins (hot wild peppers) as a young girl in South Texas at the request of her mother.3 Dr. Andrews once reported in an interview that these peppers were too hot for her to eat, though she did often hide them in her chocolate-covered cherries to deter her brother from eating them.3
She earned a bachelor’s degree in home economics from UT in 1944, a master’s degree in education from what is now Texas A&M at Kingsville in 1966, and a PhD in art from UNT in 1976.
“She was so outgoing that I think the people who knew her knew everything about her,” said Amelia Fales, her friend of 46 years (oral communication, March 2, 2010). “She put everything forward. You either liked her or you didn’t, and she didn’t care.”
During her time at UNT, Dr. Andrews became even more fascinated with peppers, and after her graduation she searched the globe for different varieties to grow in her garden.3 She also collected other objects during her extensive travels; she visited more than 100 countries and all 7 continents, including Antarctica. She even learned to scuba-dive so that she could hunt for shells in the waters surrounding the Philippines, the Australian Great Barrier Reef, Costa Rica, Panama, and the Canary Islands.2
She ultimately amassed a shell collection of over 20,000 specimens and 900 different species. She donated many of the shells to Texas Memorial Museum in 2003.4,5 She also used some of her shell collection to create art by placing some in the doors to her dinning room: “The panes going into the dining room were of thick molded plastic with the shells (around 50) molded into the plastic as though the shells were floating in water. When the light hit those doors it was amazing,” said Fales. “She was so talented, and her talent was unending.”
Other items that Dr. Andrews collected included bones, skulls, and textiles, which she also incorporated into her art.
“Jean was an amazing hostess, and walking into her small, eclectically-decorated home was like being in a mini-museum,” said Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director of the American Botanical Council. “There were dried plants, shells, skulls, bones, walking sticks, and other memorabilia she had collected over the years from all over the world. She was a dynamo and almost indefatigable, even in her later years!”
“When she was interested in something, she wanted to know all about it,” said long-time friend Marc English, founder and chair of the Order of Oosik, a society established in Dr. Andrews’ honor (oral communication, February 25, 2010). “She had this innate curiosity.”
English met Dr. Andrews in 2002 when a friend asked if he could borrow English’s Harley-Davidson so “a little old lady” could pose on it for a photo shoot. English arranged the photo shoot and soon saw an older woman wearing black leather and velour posing on his bike, with a raccoon oosik in her hat. She excitedly informed him of what it was—a J-shaped bone that exists inside the male genitalia of some mammals, including the raccoon and the walrus. Dr. Andrews collected the oosiks of many species and even created a necklace comprised of several. Her varied collections of art—as well as oosiks—led to the Order of the Oosik, an occasional dinner party/show-and-tell gathering at Dr. Andrews’ house that began with 4 people, including English, and expanded to a society of 30 men. Dr. Andrews would often recite the poem “Ode to the Oosik” at their meetings. At Dr. Andrews’ surprise 85th birthday party, the Order presented her with a 3-foot-long walrus-oosik-shaped, banana cream-filled cake.
“Everything about Jean was right out there,” said long-time friend and artist Marc Burckhardt (e-mail, February 28, 2010). “She was definitely not a closed book.”
Dr. Andrews suffered a number of hardships during her lifetime. She was predeceased by her daughter Jean (“Jinxy”) Andrews Wasson, who died at age 14 in a car accident.2,3 She also went blind in her right eye for many years before corrective surgery returned some of her sight.3 This no doubt made it difficult for her to continue her paintings during that time, but Dr. Andrews persevered. “She had a light and joy in her life, despite many hardships, and that made her a remarkable person to be around,” said Burckhardt.
Dr. Andrews served as vice-president of the Board of Trustees for the Useful Wild Plants of Texas (1994–1996) and was the first woman inducted into the Hall of Honor for the College of Natural Sciences at UT in 1991.4,5 She was also awarded the Distinguished Alumna award by both UNT (1991) and UT (1997).3,4
Dr. Andrews established 2 fellowships at UT, both of which enable professors to visit UT and share their expertise with students and the public. One of those endowments allows famous ethnobotanists to spend a week in Austin every April to lecture before students and faculty. Dr. Andrews is survived by her son Robert Wasson.2
—Kelly E. Lindner
- Andrews J. The Pepper Lady’s Pocket Pepper Primer. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1998.
- Barnes M. ‘The Pepper Lady’ Jean Andrews dies. Austin360.com. January 8, 2010. Available at: www.austin360.com/food-drink/the-pepperlady-jean-andrews-dies-170248.html. Accessed February 1, 2010.
- Schoreder E. The Pepper Lady: Jean Andrews finds the recipe for a spicy life. The North Texan online. Available at: www.unt.edu/northtexan/ archives/f05/pepper.htm. Accessed February 24, 2010.
- Aronson T. An evening with Jean Andrews. In Vivo. Spring 2007. Available at: www.biosci.utexas.edu/friends/invivo/invivo2007.pdf. Accessed February 25, 2010.
- Jean Andrews Shell Collection page. Non-vertebrate Paleontology Laboratory website. Available at: www.utexas.edu/tmm/npl/recent_comparative/andrews_bio.html. Accessed February 25, 2010.