June Rosilee Jackson Rickman Cotton

June 23, 1935 – September 23, 2018


Rest in Power


June Cotton

Born June Rosilee Jackson in Chicago, Illinois, June moved with her family to rural Michigan and then, in her early teens, to the small town of Kalamazoo.  She worked as a telephone operator, a receptionist, and eventually rose to oversee all the state’s unemployment offices.  Her work led her to live in Grand Rapids and Detroit, but on retirement she returned to Kalamazoo.  For the last two years of her life she enjoyed Seattle’s beauty and the welcoming nature of this community.

At the age of twenty, June married Dennis Vandeleur Rickman.  She had three daughters with him: Denise Angela (Nisi), Julie Anne, and Gina Mari.  After divorcing Dennis, June married William Edward Cotton, who predeceased her.

June was an enthusiastic newcomer to science fiction fandom.  She read many stories and novels in the genre inhabited by her oldest daughter, and often traveled with her to participate in science fiction conventions and conferences, where she generated her own devoted following.

June Rosilee Jackson Rickman Cotton is survived by her younger sister, Florence Jackson Thompson Moore (Cookie); her daughters Nisi Shawl and Julie Rickman; and her grandchildren Brandon Yale Johnson, Brittany Shinel Johnson, Daniel Bryant Henry, and Aaliyah Mari Hudson.

She will be missed.

“I maintained my power and dignity in the face of ‘colonial’ oppression.  I am a ‘revolutionary.’  I am among the everyday people who face racism, survive poverty, and empower people, others, to do the same.”  June Cotton, 2016


Remarks made by Nisi Shawl October 14, 2018:

We’re here because we love the memory of June Rosilee Jackson Rickman Cotton.  She was my mother, she was your friend.  She meant so much to us, always in a special way to each.  The words I hear in connection with her now: shining, light, bright, star.  I am going to attempt to give you some of her history, share a bit of how she helped me be who I am, sing a song in her honor.


We’ll close with a song called “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” and then the band will play some more, and we’ll serve a light repast of some of the food and drink June loved: chicken wings, macaroni and cheese, coleslaw, and ginger ale.  We’ll have coffee cake from the café across the street from the apartment where she stayed.  We’ll talk with one another informally.


June Rosilee Jackson Rickman Cotton was born in Chicago, Illinois on June 23, 1935.  She lived on Chicago’s South Side, which now is a mess, but back then it was a thriving upper middle class neighborhood.  Her people were dentists, doctors, socialites.  Her own mother, Selma Gasper Jackson, died when June was only 11 years old.  Not long afterwards her father, Joseph C. Jackson, and her new stepmother, Bessie Jackson, moved with the family to the wilds of rural Michigan.  For a time June lived with her Aunt Blanche Tobin, back in Chicago.  She and Bessie—Gransie, as our family came to call her—didn’t get along well.  At the age of 14 my mother moved to Kalamazoo, Michigan.  She worked as a telephone operator, one of the first women of color to do that.  She could “talk proper,” a lesson the nuns at her Chicago Catholic grade school taught her, and one that definitely paid off in terms of her career.


My mother made friends way back then with another African American teenager, Suzanne, and they were still friends the day Mom died.  My sisters and I often played with Suzanne’s kids.


I have so many memories of my mother I will treasure all my life.  She taught me much more than I realized during my childhood and adolescence, offered to me wisdom about how to make my way through this wonderful but extremely confusing world.  I told her at one point I would have ended up badly, a criminal, a murderer maybe, if she hadn’t been my mother.


She taught me to tell the truth.  She taught me that if I showed people that I really cared about them, they would show me they cared about me.  She taught me to pay attention to what people do rather than what they say they’re doing—and to think about the outcomes of their manipulations in terms of their effect on me rather than what any given manipulator claims those effects are.


I have a distinct memory of telling my mother that when I grew up I wanted to live with her.  I must have been about six.  Mom said most people change their minds about doing that sort of thing when they become adults.  In hindsight, I figure she must have been trying to prepare herself for what she thought was the inevitable split between us.


I was a teen in the late 60s and early 70s.  I was a hippy.  My mother was a liberal, and for many of my formative years she raised me on her own.  She and my father Dennis divorced when I was eight, and she didn’t remarry till I was 16.  During that time my two sisters, my mother, and I formed a sort of Amazon collective, a feminist household where I learned early on to take responsibility for my own feelings and thoughts.  June’s rules were few and flexible, even when it came to me, the oldest of the three girls.  I had no curfew.  As far as the use of recreational drugs went, I was warned simply to “avoid white powders.”  Why?  Because there’s no telling what’s in them.  They could be anything, Mom explained.  Her warning made so much sense to me I heeded it, stubborn-headed though I’ve always been.  Thereby I missed much grief.


I also learned that my mother was not just my mother, that she was a person in her own right.  At times she refused to answer to anything other than her given name.  That’s probably why I still sometimes refer to her as June; it’s a mark of deep respect, not the opposite.


We did live together as adults.  Twice.  The first time, we rented a house and shared it with my sisters Julie and Gina.  That would have been in the 1980s.  I drifted away to live with and then marry Patrick Shawl.  She helped us buy a house together.  She gave me a baby rattle for Christmas, which gift I loathed!  She wanted grandkids, but I disappointed her there.  Fortunately Gina, her youngest daughter, had four—two boys and two girls.  They all visited her last Christmas.


There were other ways I disappointed my mother, I’m sure.  I know it for a fact.  But she was also extremely proud of me.  As a birthday present back in 1978, I gave her a poem I wrote called “Myriades,” and saw light dawn as she understood what I was trying to do with my writing.  She got it, and she was so sure I was a genius!  From then on she supported my work wholeheartedly.  She handed out business cards, flyers—she really promoted me!  I bet there are people here who received something like that from June.


When I co-won the James Tiptree, Jr. Award in 2009 she came with me to the convention where it was awarded.  That was her introduction to science fiction fandom, and she enjoyed it so much!  During the auction—emceed at that time by Ellen Klages—she nearly fell on the floor, she was laughing so hard.  She made conquests left and right, mowing them DOWN in the Governor’s Club bar in the convention hotel.  She spread light and happiness in her wake, there and at the many other SF functions she attended with me, in Florida, New York, Alabama, the Bay Area, Atlanta, Detroit, Amsterdam!!  Sometimes she wrote her own badges at conventions, calling herself “Nisi’s Mom.”  I am here to tell you that just as often these days I call myself “June’s daughter.”


The second time June and I lived together began at the end of my publicity tour for my first novel, Everfair.  I hooked up with her in Michigan, flew down to Georgia with her for the final event of that leg of the tour, and then we went home.  At first we shared an apartment, but our landlord made it possible for us to rent the apartment next to mine as soon as it became available, and friends helped us furnish it on the cheap, with the donation of used bookcases, chairs, tables, dressers—it worked.  And we were also given new purchases: a microwave, baking pans and dishes, a cozy electric blanket.  June was so happy, and I’m so grateful for everyone who made our final months together good ones.


My mother loved it here.  She loved the weather, the high level of medical care, the water, the trees, the people.  I used to drive along Lake Washington just so she had the pleasure of its scenery.  She loved the Southeast Seattle Senior Center, and she was a loyal member of the SESSC community, as many here can attest.  She loved Clarion West, and attended almost every reading, almost every party.  I am hard-pressed to think of anything she DIDN’T like about Seattle.  Maybe the cost of living here.  That’s probably about it.


Early in her time here Mom told me, “Nisi, why didn’t you hit me over the head and bring me out here long ago?”  Yes, June was stubbornheaded too.


I miss her.  I know you miss her as well.

8 Responses to “June Rosilee Jackson Rickman Cotton”

  • Lisa williams says:

    I’m so very sorry for your loss, may you find comfort in beautiful memories and Jesus words, john 5:28, 29

  • Keyan Bowes says:

    Such a well-lived life! It was a privilege to know her.

  • Eileen Gunn says:

    June accomplished many good things in her 83+ years and made a huge difference in the lives of many people. Since she will continue to inspire all of us who knew and loved her, we can truly say she rests in power.

  • Eleanor Arnason says:

    What a wonderful memorial speech, and what a wonderful person. I only knew her slightly, but her spirit shone out.

  • Sheila Williams says:

    Nisi, I only met your mom a few times, but enjoyed my time with her immensely. Thanks for sharing her with us, and thanks for this lovely tribute.

  • Barbara Klaver says:

    When I think of June, I remember her eyes and her smile. It seemed like she smiled a lot, and often saw the humor in life. But I remember too, her ironic smiles, that recognized lies, or corruption, or just ugliness. Nothing got past her. She was indeed, a revolutionary.

    Always bright in her eyes: June’s pride in her daughters. And she had so much energy! It’s wonderful she got to travel in her last years. I can easily see her completely “mowing them DOWN in the Governor’s Club bar”!

    Know that you Nisi, and Julie, and Gina, gave her all of the love any parent could hope for – and that makes all of the difference.

  • Patricia Burroughs aka Pooks says:

    Thank you so much for allowing us to share your these eloquent words about your mother and her life, and yours. I’m especially glad you had your time in Seattle together.

    The world is an emptier place when we lose our moms but it certainly isn’t just a cliché that they live in our memories. Bless you.

  • Timothy Gallagher says:

    Denise (Nisi) introduced me to her mother, June, and her siblings, Gina and Julie, in the latter part of 1972 or early ’73. All I knew about June then was that she worked at the unemployment office, and she was strikingly beautiful.
    To anyone who knew Nisi, her genius surpassed her own graceful beauty to become her predominant feature. I felt she was a righteous woman whom I hoped would always be my friend, and I felt fortunate that she agreed. In the late ‘90’s I moved back to Kalamazoo after living for 14 years in Florida. My mother had passed in 1995 and in 1998, my father requested that I come and stay with him so that he could afford to stay in his mobile home. Of course, that’s what I did. Today, 11/20/2019, is the first time I read Nisi’s beautifully written and informative obituary.
    After I had moved in with my father, Nisi told me that June had become a business owner, an antique shop in the part of town where I’d grown up. When I went to see her I instantly realized that June was amazing and a delight to converse with, and she liked me! So, we became good friends. I had acquired a bicycle and begun working at a pizza parlor, but I rode across town to see her every week or two. I kept that sort of visit schedule after I bought my brother’s car and worked part-time as a radio news reporter, and full-time as a merchandiser driving to Lowes stores in Southeast Lower Michigan and Northern Indiana; then all over Michigan’s Lower Peninsula as I covered for people who had quit. Being that busy and that tired was okay because seeing June was refreshing. Being in her company was the easiest thing I did.
    We enjoyed each other’s sense of humor, and, on the rare occasion she had a craving for Dairy Queen, I would hop, skip and jump to the corner and share a treat with her. She kept me informed about Nisi’s career. I’d been reading Nisi’s stories and poems since we were teenagers, and I loved reading them in books.
    June would tell me about the pieces that she had acquired, impressing me with the expertise she had developed. She knew countries, cities, and states of origin, manufacturers’ names, and within which dates they were produced. Was this a real Hummel or a knock-off? June could tell you. Once I brought in a Hummel-sized ceramic pickle pixie thing I had bought by mail order for my mother years ago, and she was even familiar with that! I was happy when she told me it was real. For good measure she threw in a guess as to how many were in the series and about when and where it may have been manufactured – worth more if it was manufactured in x than if it was manufactured in y.
    She once told me how wondrous it was that the pieces in her shop had traversed time and space to settle for a rest in the special places she had prepared for them. They did not belong to her, she said, she only cleaned them and admired them until their travels continued. In this way she compared herself, in a highly romanticized way, with a plantation house slave, caring for and appreciating the marvelous and enchanting possessions of her owners. I was so touched that she could suspend the atrocity of being bought and sold like livestock and imagine herself as a slave woman enjoying a rare moment of reverie.
    I kept up with my visits until she realized that unseen mold was causing her health to fail, and she was forced to sell the business. I would still occasionally visit her at her house, and occasionally see her and Gina at the grocery store. Beautiful Gina! Gina knew I sometimes had a problem with names and invariably greeted me with, “Hi Tim! It’s Gina.” To which I would reply, “I knowwww!”
    Nisi, I was so sorry when I learned of your loss. Due to the effect our rift had on my relationship with your mother I didn’t know that Gina was sick or that she left us until a year later. Nor did I know about your mother, or even that she had moved to Seattle, until about a half year after her last breath. These were losses for both of us, but it is unimaginable what it was like for you to lose your sister and your mother so closely together. I was heartened to read that you and June had such a great time together before she left us. And tweet has it that you are doing well now.
    It was wonderful to know such fine women as you three.

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