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Celebrating the life of

John Bridwell Severance (Jake)

July 24, 1935 - November 28, 2023

John Bridwell Severance (Jake)

John Bridwell Severance (Jake) of Savannah, Georgia, author, teacher, and artist, died peacefully at home on Tuesday November 28, 2023. He was 88. He is survived by his beloved wife of 38 years, Sylvia Frezzolini Severance, who cared for him with daily devotion and brought great humor and playfulness to their life together.

Jake was born July 24, 1935 in New York City, to Frank A. F. Severance and Frances Vidal (Clarke) Severance. He was the eldest of Frank and Franny’s children, brother to F. Alexander Severance (1939-2015) and Sarah Vidal ‘Tij’ Severance (1940-1981), as well as M. Renwick Severance (b. 1945) who survives him. He is also survived by daughters Rebecca Severance Cushing and Abigail Severance; son-in-law Daniel K. Cushing; grandchildren David Severance Cushing and Julia Severance Cushing; granddaughter-in-law Montana Thompson Cushing; and great-grandchildren Ruxton and Ripton Cushing; as well as his former wife and mother of his children, Gwenith Heuss-Severance. Jake also leaves behind an intimate circle of his and Sylvia’s dear friends in Savannah.

A lover of art, literature, theater, and music, Jake was a devoted reader who could quote favorite passages with ease and elegance, from Chaucer’s Old English Canterbury Tales to Mark Twain’s pithy reflections on human foibles to the rich vernacular of Dylan Thomas’ poetry. After his early childhood in New York, Jake’s family moved to New Canaan, Connecticut during the Second World War. He attended the South Kent School, earned a B.A. in history at Harvard College in 1958, and a Master of Liberal Arts in American Literature at Wesleyan University in 1968, all the while exploring the arts through painting, drawing, writing, and design.

Jake and Sylvia met in 1984, introduced by friends at the storied Pete’s Tavern in New York City. They were married in Manhattan on March 16, 1985. After several years living on the Upper West Side, they moved to Westerly, Rhode Island where they lived until moving to Savannah in 2007. They shared a deep love for the arts and traveled extensively together, including to India, South America, Australia, Europe, and many trips to Italy. As Jake wrote to Sylvia as they fell in love, they wanted “to see the world through each other’s eyes.”

For over 30 years, Jake taught arts in independent schools including South Kent, Choate Rosemary Hall, Phillips Academy Andover, the Little Red School House, and his final and favorite, the Kent Place School in New Jersey. In 1992, he retired from teaching to write full time, publishing seven books for young readers, including the non-fiction titles Winston Churchill: Soldier, Statesman, Artist (1996), Gandhi, Great Soul (1997), Thomas Jefferson: Architect of Democracy (1998), Einstein: Visionary Scientist (1999), and Skyscrapers (2000); as well two novels, Braving the Fire (2002) and Fortune Found (2017). Each book reflected his deep love of history, language, and democracy. 

Often called a Renaissance man, alongside teaching and writing, Jake was a visual artist, tinkerer, artisan, sailor, and designer of whimsical mechanical things for household use that, while impressive, drove his family just a little bit crazy. In the 1970s, he was a member of the artist-run Ward-Nasse Gallery in Soho, New York, where he exhibited his distinct still lifes and landscapes. His fascination with architecture led him to design and build two homes: a homestead-style cabin on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia in 1972 and a modern, passive-solar house in Charlestown, Rhode Island in the 1980s. A lover of the sea, Jake was an avid sailor and boatsman and built a Chesapeake Bay Skipjack sailboat by hand which he sailed for many years in Nova Scotia’s Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Jake’s children and grandchildren fondly remember his marvelous way of reading books aloud when they were little, with dramatic flourishes, shifting rhythms, and especially his distinct voices for each of the characters in the world of Winnie-the-Pooh. Each family member has their favorite character voice, from Eeyore and Piglet to Christopher Robin and Winnie himself. His inventive mind, quiet intellect, and thoughtful presence will be dearly missed by all who knew and loved him.

A memorial for Jake’s family and friends will be held in the spring. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Emmaus House, an interfaith ministry of Christ Church Episcopal of Savannah (



We are so very sorry to hear of Jake's passing. He was an extraordinary human and will be missed.

- John & Pam Adams Muccio, Acworth, GA

Dear Sylvia, our deepest sympathy to you and family. And thank you for sharing Jake’s time and knowledge with us, you SmArt friends

- Oksana & John Posa , Savannah , GA

We shall certainly miss John! My deepest sympathy to you, Sylvia.

- Joan Levy, Savannah, GA

Services under the direction of:

Fox & Weeks Funeral Directors, Hodgson Chapel