When Jacqueline Mock begins to talk, her passion for her subject takes over and listeners are able to envision the fascinating life of Beatrix Potter, the author of the beloved story of Peter Rabbit.
While Mock elaborates on Potter's literary and artistic career as author and illustrator of 23 small storybooks depicting charismatic animals in period dress and detailing charming stories, one quickly learns that it is Potter, the girl, and later the woman, that Mock admires greatly. She paints a picture of a lonely girl of the late 1800s who found companionship with the woodland creatures in and around her home and who then brought them to life on paper, which has endeared her characters for generations and will continue to endear generations to come.
"Beatrix was a remarkable woman. She is the reason I do this," says Mock. "I admire her profoundly for these reasons in this order: her character; her mind; her quality of life; her achievements; and Peter Rabbit, which she wrote at the age of 36."
Mock says Peter Rabbit is "a big message in a little book. Her publisher wanted some words deleted, saying they were too big for children. 'No,' she said, 'children love a challenge.'"
Peter Rabbit began as an eight-page letter to the invalid child of her former governess.
Beatrix bought her beloved Hill Top Farm with proceeds from her book, where she bred and raised Herdwick sheep, becoming one of the major Herdwick sheep farmers in the area. She experimented with the latest biological remedies for the common diseases of sheep and employed the best shepherds, sheep breeders, and farm managers. In 1942 she was named president-elect of The Herdwick Sheepbreeders' Association the first time a woman had ever been elected to that office, but died before taking office.
Potter supported the efforts of the National Trust to preserve not just the places of extraordinary beauty, but those heads of valley and low grazing lands that would be irreparably ruined by development. She was interested in preserving not only the Herdwick sheep, but the way of life of fell farming. In 1930, she and her husband William Heelise became partners with the National Trust in buying and managing the fell farms.
It is this story that Mock has been telling for 30 years as a guest lecturer through her own illustrations based on Potter's books and in a slide show of her visits to Potter's childhood homes and her farms in England.
Western Pocono Community Library wanted to do something special for Mock and they held a Garden Tea Party to commemorate this milestone, catered by The Stroudsmoor Inn.
"I am indebted to Carol Kern for allowing me to do this. Without Carol, there would not be a library in this area," says Mock.
"I was 53 years old when I began speaking. It started almost as a book report at the library where I lived. I've always had a thing for books and I can't say enough about reading books. So many of my first talks were in libraries," says Mock.
When she became fascinated with the biography of Beatrix Potter, in 1982 she began researching and learning everything she could about the woman. That first one small speaking engagement about Beatrix Potter led to a 30-year experience as one of the world's most noted experts on the subject and resulted in cherished trips when personally invited to Potter's home, Hill Top Farm, in England's Lake District, where she was able to meet and talk with some people who knew Potter.
"You can't imagine how I felt to be invited to England and to meet Willow Taylor, who knew Beatrix. We became good friends."
The smallest group she spoke to was for one.
"One of the privileges of my life was to meet Tom Storey. He said of Beatrix, 'She was a bonny lady. A good boss.'
"I gave my presentation to Tom. He was the general manager and chief shepherd at Hill Top Farm. He was closer to Beatrix more than anyone. I wanted him to tell me if I got it right. He gave me his approval. That meant everything to me."
Mock's late husband, Walter, was her number one devoted fan.
"He drove me all around the country to different speaking engagements. He was my 'set up, knock down' man. He was so patient."
She gave her former pastor credit as her mentor. She was his volunteer secretary.
"He was an excellent orator and he taught me so much about how to speak to an audience."
Some teachers from Jefferson Elementary School in Succasunna, N.J., attended the commemorative program. Mock had been a speaker at their school for 25 years.
"We just love her and we wouldn't have missed this event for anything," says Cathy Davodowich, a Jefferson teacher.
Pat Rumeries was so taken with Mock's talks that she accompanied her on her trip to England and Potter's home last year.
Mock has spoken to small children's groups, in schools and to large adult audiences everywhere. The largest was to a group of 642 at the Museum of Natural History.
"This career has been a blessing in my life," she says.