Jean Hiller Yawkey was born on January 24, 1909, in Brooklyn. She graduated from Freeport High School in 1926. She made a living as a model and salesperson at New York Cityís exclusive womenís clothing store, Jay Thorpe. A striking, statuesque brunette with dark brown eyes, her innate air of refinement served her well.
She met Tom Yawkey at Jay Thorpe's when he was shopping with his first wife Elise. The two had been separated for three years before Elise filed for divorce in Reno in November 1944. The following month on Christmas Eve, Tom and Jean were married in a private ceremony in Georgetown, South Carolina where Tom owned a home and a large expanse of land.
After she married Tom, it became obvious that she shared his baseball zeal. Compatible in other ways too, the couple did not gravitate toward the social set. In time, Jean became a fixture at Bostonís Fenway Park. She rarely missed a Red Sox home game. During the baseball season they lived in a suite at Bostonís Ritz-Carlton Hotel and their activities centered on the Red Sox. Tom and Jean had no children of their own, so one could say the Red Sox became their family. Chain smoking and often sipping on a martini, her trusty binoculars on hand, she meticulously recorded each play of each inning in a specially-bound score book.
Boston fans and players alike were heartbroken when Tom Yawkey died in 1976. He left his baseball holdings to a trust controlled by his widow. In September, 1977, it was announced that a group headed by former Red Sox backup catcher Haywood Sullivan and the clubís former trainer Buddy LeRoux would control the Red Sox. The plan placed Mrs. Yawkey in the background as a limited partner. But before the other American League owners could approve the proposition, she exerted her authority by firing the clubís general manager Dick OíConnell and two of his aides, naming Haywood Sullivan as OíConnellís replacement.
In May 1978, the AL owners approved the groupís bid. She and Sullivan continued to maintain something of a filial relationship, but they often butted heads in matters of hiring and firing. She apparently viewed his every disagreement as disloyalty. Free agency had just come into being when Jean took over, so that placed a new dimension on such a practice. It likely did not sit well with her when in 1981 the club lost its most popular player to the White Sox due to Sullivanís negligence. He mailed prized catcher Carlton Fiskís contract two days after the deadline.
Jean shunned interviews and public speaking and even declined to speak at Cooperstown at her husbandís induction into the Hall of Fame in 1980. Her acquaintances attributed that demeanor to shyness. Some said that she had a great sense of humor and a loud, hearty laugh and she was also known to engage in warm conversation with fans, ballplayers, and Red Sox staff members, but when approached by the media, she would clam up.
A contentious relationship among the new owners existed from the start. LeRoux and Kentucky coal mine owner Rodgers Badgett, the limited partner with the largest investment, focused primarily on padding the profits. They even cut back on team and fan amenities. Because of her free-spending style, Jean strongly disapproved of such tactics.
In 1983, LeRoux called a press conference and made a startling announcement. He proclaimed that the majority stockholders were taking control of the Red Sox. As the ballclub staff tried to make sense of the declaration, John L. Harrington, representing Jean and Sullivan took LeRouxís place at the conference table.
In July, the case was heard by Judge James P. Lynch at the Suffolk County Courthouse. In August, the court ruled the June attempted takeover illegal, and permanently enjoined and restrained LeRoux from any future such attempted coup. The unpleasantness of the situation only served to toughen Jean, and she emerged as a person of note in the world of big-league baseball.
In 1984, Jean was elected a member of the Board of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. She was the first woman to achieve that position.
That same year, Lou Gorman came over from the Mets, replacing Sullivan as the Red Sox GM. Gorman got the team back on track, staying with the Red Sox for the remainder of Jeanís ownership years.
In 1987 she bought out LeRoux for an estimated $7 million, giving her two votes to Sullivanís one, effectively full control of the Red Sox. She also named Harrington, who by then had become her closest confidant, president of JRY Trust. Although Harrington was her chief spokesperson, he made it clear that Jean was the one running the Red Sox. By 1990, her relationship with Sullivan had deteriorated to the point that the two no longer spoke.
In February 1992, Jean Yawkey suffered a stroke at her Four Seasons Hotel condo in Boston where she had lived alone since 1987. Found by a hotel employee who checked on her when she failed to come down for her morning paper, she was rushed to Massachusetts General Hospital and passed away on February 26, 1992, at age 83. Her passing marked the conclusion of the era of the Yawkey era in Boston.