Body of Jean Romig, community matriarch, found along Kenai River bank

Posted: Friday, June 18, 2010

Jean Romig, the daughter-in-law of the esteemed Dr. Joseph Herman Romig, was found dead, lying face down in the Kenai River on June 11. She was 78.

Romig's daughter, Kerry Romig, said her mother would not have wanted to die in such a tragic way.

"I just don't want her to be some snippet for people to gossip about. She wasn't a dramatic person," Romig said.

Alaska State Troopers don't suspect foul play, and a fisherman who saw Romig's body said signs point to an accidental death.

Gary Brown, owner of Alaska Kenai Fishing for Fun, was guiding his first Kenai River fishing trip of the season when he saw Romig's dog stuck in an eddy near Romig's riverfront Cooper Landing home.

"I thought I was going to help the dog," Brown said. "He looked like he'd been stuck there for quite some time."

The dog was soaked and was panting heavily, Brown recalled.

"When I jumped over there, there was Jean," Brown said. "I was shocked. Jean's been a part of our community for years and years. She's one of the most revered people in this community. She was a real kind person."

Brown said he instantly knew Romig was dead.

"She was floating. There was nothing that I could do. I've seen it many times in Vietnam," Brown said. "You know when they're gone."

Brown suspects Romig might have fallen when trying to climb down a ladder on a steep bank in an attempt to reach her dog.

"There was an old rickety ladder down there and the ladder was right next to the dog and Jean was right next to the ladder," Brown said, cautioning it was only his theory. "I think she went out to get her dog out."

Kerry Romig said the details of her mother's death aren't important.

"We don't know what happened. We may never know," she said.

What's important to Kerry Romig is properly remembering her mother.

Though Jean had the Romig name because she married into the family, that wasn't necessarily a major part of who she was.

"She wasn't a missus, she was a miss," Kerry Romig said. "It was a married name. She didn't identify as a Romig necessarily. It wasn't that she needed that as an identity. She had her own."

Part of that identity included being a matriarch of the Cooper Landing community, where she spent more than 20 years working in the school, according to her daughter.

"She was an incredibly motivating teacher," Kerry Romig said. "Her persistent harassment of (her students) made them better people. She earned their respect."

Jean Romig also taught Kerry many of life's important lessons.

"My mom taught me to be independent, to be my own person regardless of what other people might think," Kerry Romig said. "That's not a calloused message. I think it was an important one."

Ben Romig, Jean's stepson, said he will always think of Jean as a rock.

"I remember her for her stamina," Ben Romig said. "The way she presented herself was almost unchanged for 45 years."

Many consider Jean's father-in-law, Dr. Joseph Romig, a local pioneer. He is the subject of the 1940 book "Dog-Team Doctor" by Eva Anderson. Romig was the first chief surgeon at Providence Hospital in Anchorage and served one term as Anchorage mayor, beginning in 1937. Romig Junior High School, in Anchorage, was named in his honor. Several members of the Romig lineage still live in the state.

But Jean Romig was an independent woman.

"She didn't bake cookies. She didn't knit," Kerry Romig said. "She'd bet with my husband on football and basketball."

Originally from Framingham, Mass., Jean Romig was an avid Celtics fan.

The last time Kerry Romig saw her mother was the night before Mother's Day. Although, Kerry said she missed a call from Jean the night before she died.

"The Celtics had won," Kerry Romig said. "I'm sure it was about the Celtics."

Andrew Waite can be reached at

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