Jill Harper: A Passionate Volunteer
Loving wife, devoted mother, community activist, passionate volunteer, role model, outspoken, enthusiastic, hilarious, inspirational, playful, game show aficionado and "the loud English lady.”
At one time or another over the past 56 years, all of the above have been used to describe Jill Harper.
Born Jill Grimshaw on December 29, 1952 in Douglas, Isle of Man, she was the youngest child of Harry Grimshaw of England and Mary Elizabeth (Brough) Grimshaw of Ireland. Living in Wales and England throughout her childhood, Jill’s early elementary education was at a Welsh-speaking school where nobody was permitted to speak English. Some might say that she spent the rest of her life making up for lost time, as her gift of gab was unparalleled.
At age 12, Jill met her eventual husband Philip while both were members of the St. James Church Amateur Dramatic Society in the tiny village of Gatley, England. Jill received critical acclaim for her performances in several plays and revues, most notably for her portrayal of the maid in Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit. She was also an outstanding athlete, serving as the captain of her netball team (similar to basketball) and excelling in swimming. Unfortunately, Jill developed a severe asthmatic condition as a teenager which curtailed many of her physical activities but never affected her tremendous spirit, heart or passion.
Jill made a brief return to the world of competitive athletics in the mid-1990s when her family set up a ping-pong table in the garage, but a broken rib suffered during a heated game with her son permanently ended her sports career.
Jill married Philip in 1971 and was the proud mother of two sons, Richard and Ian, by the end of the decade. The foursome emigrated to the United States in 1982, primarily to be closer to Jill’s older sister, Anne, who had moved here 17 years earlier. The appeal of California’s dry climate was another reason for the move, as it was better for Jill’s asthmatic condition than the damp weather of Great Britain. The family settled in Lancaster due to Philip’s job in the aerospace industry. They spent 15 years in Lancaster, during which time they added two daughters, Kelly and Claire, to the brood.
In serving as PTA President at three different schools in the Lancaster School District, Jill discovered her passion for volunteerism. Never content with being a follower, she nearly always ended up as the leader and driving force behind every cause and organization in which she was involved. An avid supporter of her children’s athletic endeavors, Jill started the Rancho Vista Tennis Tournament in 1991 to support high school tennis in the Antelope Valley. Still going strong, the 19th installment of the annual tournament will be held later this year.
After the deaths of two close friends from breast cancer, Jill volunteered with the American Cancer Society fundraiser "Daffodil Days” in Palmdale. This led to her being offered the position of Community Services Coordinator for the Santa Clarita Valley chapter of the American Cancer Society. After accepting the offer, she and Philip moved their family to Canyon Country in 1997. Jill organized fundraisers and support services throughout her tenure at ACS, which resulted in her becoming integrated into the Santa Clarita Valley community and active in the Chamber of Commerce. She served as Chairman of the American Cancer Society’s Daffodil Days Committee, helped to introduce the annual fundraiser "Relay For Life” to the SCV community and founded the Prostate Cancer Support Group at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills.
After five years at the American Cancer Society, Jill decided to tackle a new challenge as Director of Volunteers and Recreation for the SCV Senior Center, where she worked to improve Santa Clarita’s status as an elder-friendly community. Through this work, Jill became actively involved with College of the Canyons. She was instrumental in helping the two institutions to establish a lasting partnership through the introduction of new and innovative activities. Over the next several years, Jill became profoundly involved with moving the College forward, helping it to pass Bond Measures C and M and serving as an active member of the Canyon Country Site Selection Committee and the Canyon Country Campus Advisory Committee.
Her community spirit, volunteerism and altruism led to her being named the 2002 Distinguished Honoree by the Zonta Club of Santa Clarita Valley at their Status of Women Celebration. In addition, she was a founding member of the SCV Resource Center, served on the City of Santa Clarita’s Canyon Country Beautification Committee and was an active supporter of the Repertory East Playhouse in Newhall. She also worked with the Tobacco Coalition, Betty Ferguson Foundation, Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital, American Red Cross and Business Women’s Association.
In 2005, Jill renewed her childhood interest in acting, doing background work on numerous movies and television programs. Among her credits were the films Superbad, Blades of Glory, Evan Almighty, Live Free or Die Hard and Semi-Pro, along with the TV shows How I Met Your Mother, 24, Gilmore Girls, The New Adventures of Old Christine, Las Vegas and Crossing Jordan. She was also clearly visible in the closing moments of the final episode of The O.C., beaming her trademark smile. Despite many long and grueling hours on sets, Jill absolutely loved her job, primarily because it afforded her the opportunity to meet and socialize with so many different people.
She happily continued to work as "background talent” until she was diagnosed with breast cancer in May 2007. She fiercely battled the disease for nearly two years before ultimately succumbing to it on March 14, 2009. Two weeks later, more than 300 friends and family members gathered in the cafeteria at College of the Canyons to celebrate the life and legacy of Jill Harper. In lieu of flowers, her family asked that donations be made to the COC Foundation in her name.
Jill was a connoisseur of romance novels and an expert at jigsaw puzzles. She also loved watching reality TV shows, sports and anything (and everything) on the Game Show Network. In fact, she participated as a contestant on the game shows Sale of the Century and Scrabble in the 1980s. Both long-running shows were canceled shortly after her appearances on them, which resulted in her enduring many years of teasing by her family.
Jill was a role model and an inspiration to many. She possessed a tremendously positive spirit, along with boundless enthusiasm and passion. She also had an unrivaled sense of humor which no illness or ordeal was ever able to extinguish.