Bellingham woman's anniversary sky dive a tribute to deceased husband

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDNovember 25, 2013 

Jen Green

Bellingham resident Jen Green sky dives in tandem, Nov. 4, 2013, to celebrate her 70th birthday by making her 70th jump. Her anniversary dive was from the California airport where she met her second husband 44 years ago. He died while sky diving a few years later leaving Green to raise their 5-month-old daughter on her own.

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Jen Green's idea had an obvious symmetry to it. She wanted to sky dive for her 70th time on her 70th birthday.

Her idea also was ripe with pathos. She wanted to jump out of a plane from the same California airport where she met her second husband, a professional sky diver who taught her the sport 44 years ago. He died a few years later when his parachutes failed to open, leaving a Green a widow with their 5-month-old daughter to raise.

Last month, Green and a girlfriend drove to the small city of Lake Elsinore, southeast of Los Angeles, for her appointment for a tandem jump on her birthday, Nov. 4. However low clouds and an airport event forced her to wait two days before going aloft.

The wait was worth it.

"It was clear and perfectly beautiful," Green said. "I might want to do it again. The exhilaration, it was just like I remembered it."

An exuberant person who carries an accent from her native England, Green moved to the United States with her first husband, a GI, in 1964.

"The same years as the Beatles," she said.

They settled in San Bernardino, in Southern California, but the marriage didn't last. After her divorce, friends encouraged Green to give sky diving a try.

That's how she met Tom Phillips, her sky-diving instructor, in 1969. During their time together Green recorded 69 jumps in her logbook.

Her husband was a member of a team that won a national championship for their linked formations in the sky. They married in 1972 and had a daughter, Skye, named not for what's overhead but for the Scottish island linked in lore to a liqueur.

"Tom liked to put a shot of Drambuie in his coffee," Green said.

While they were living in Colorado her husband traveled to Arizona for a sky-diving competition. During a sunset jump with teammates, he fell to his death.

"Which was odd," Green said, pausing to maintain her composure. "He packed chutes for a living."

Friends scattered his ashes into the Pacific Ocean while sky-diving off Newport Beach, Calif.

Green moved back to Southern California. Busy raising her daughter and working as a respiratory therapist, she stopped sky diving for reasons both practical and personal.

She next married an aviator. They lived in Alaska, where he was a bush pilot and they had a son, Felix. After that marriage ended in divorce, Green moved to Bellingham in 1988 so her children could attend better schools. She also loved Bellingham's size, maritime setting and its weather.

"The climate's a lot like England," she said.

She became a full-time clerk at Whatcom County Superior Court, retiring at the end of 2011.

With her 70th birthday approaching, Green and her girlfriend planned their three-week trip down the West Coast.

"It seemed like a good thing to do, like my tattoo," Green said. "I got a tattoo after I retired."

Lake Elsinore had changed considerably over the past four decades, and Green met in person with only one of Tom's old sky-diving buddies.

But there were reminders of the past. During her jump strapped to a professional diver, she wore the championship medal that Tom had worn on his fatal jump.

After she landed, she saw at the airport a sepia-tone older photograph enlarged for public display. The photo shows sky divers standing on the ground looking up to the sky. Tom is in the picture.

"That's what made me cry," Green said.

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Reach Dean Kahn at 360-715-2291 or dean.kahn@bellinghamherald.com.

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