It’s hard to write with tears in your eyes…
Julie Hewlett was the grandparent I had the longest, and even losing her the week I turned 45, is hard to comprehend she is gone.
46 years ago she married my Grandpa Lester Hewlett, in his mid 50’s, after his children and family had already been grown up and become established, long after his marriage ended, as they were set up on a blind date in her mid 30’s.
He was a former mission president in Australia, having run the family business for his career, Hewlett’s Jams and Jellies, for decades; she was a teacher from Highland High School in Salt Lake City, UT, who had thousands of children from classes over years of teaching and loving them.
Never having children of her own, Les’ family became hers, and I was born as one of her oldest grandchildren less than a year later.
She had an instant family: children just a few years younger than her, many grandchildren, and eventually more great-grandchildren than can be counted… and treated us from go as her own.
My Grandfather died in his sleep 6 years later, to everyone’s shock, and especially his young bride, our “Step” Grandma – instead, we could say “Bonus” Grandma – but we just lovingly called her Grandma Julie.
Despite the sadness and confusion of Grandpa’s passing, Julie stepped up and was always there for us. $5 in every birthday card came in the mail each year from Grandma Julie, a handwritten note of encouragement and love, always honoring Grandpa.
Through the years my Mom, Marsha, became one of her best friends, taking her to lunch constantly, calling and checking up on her. They had a beautiful friendship that lasted until the final days of her life.
As I got older we realized how much we had in common. My love of piano and music grew from all influences around me, but it wasn’t until high school that I understood her Signature Moves as a masterful pianist, knowing all things of the history of art, music, culture, taking youth groups to Europe over the summer to teach appreciation of it all.
We were not blood, but connected by music, our souls met in it’s love of the arts, and we became wonderful friends as Grandma and grandson.
I would take her to lunch to The Fiddler’s Elbow, in her red Subaru, we would laugh as I told her of the career I was trying to create in music and Las Vegas doing impressions and comedy, how unorthodox it was compared to the side of classical music she knew and believed I could conquer if I put my mind to it.
And yet, even still, as I butchered every good pop song to make it funny, satirize and parody, there she was, sitting front row, smiling with eyebrows raised, knowing exactly what it took to pull off what I was doing with my voice…blinking and pondering…she would later tell me, “Watching you perform, I am so proud of you. But I know it’s hurting you. And your voice, you’re damaging your vocal folds, please be careful. And why does it have to be so loud? Could you maybe do “Rhapsody in Blue” by Gershwin to even things out?”
She was demanding, it was terrifying to have her sit at my feet as I played Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” in my own variation, since I knew that she knew I was untrained, but she applauded anyway, and told anyone who would listen about her “famous grandson”.
Through the years I was stunned as to how many extraordinary, gifted, and successful people would see me at my shows or speeches and come up asking, “Any relation to Mrs. Hewlett? She was my favorite teacher.” It was thrilling to make such connections, as many of these people were my heroes, as I was so proud to say, “Yes! She’s my Grandma!” Instant connection, my credibility immediately grew as they figured I must have been trained by her.
Truth is we talked very little shop about music, we simply enjoyed what one another knew and loved. She didn’t try to fix me or correct what I was doing wrong as a performer, instead she just said, “I love that you figured out how to do that. That is very difficult what you’re able to do with your voice, somewhat impossible, but your Grandpa would have gotten a kick out of you.”
My 2 favorite moments are as follows with Grandma Julie:
1 – The Travelin’ Man
About 15 years ago I told her I had written a song, and she asked me to play it for her in the quiet condo where a grand piano had been my entire life, a gift from my Grandpa that he could hardly afford but wanted to get for her before he unexpectedly passed.
She treated it as if it were made of fragile strings and the golden hair of a swan, with a long red felt covering the keys to keep it pristine at all times. She played quietly and masterfully, in a way that people would ask her to open the windows and doors to hear her classical brilliance from the courtyard below.
I had never played a song I’d written for her, but had my harmonica in my bag, so I sat down, threw the harmonica on, and ripped into the loudest version of a song called “The Travelin’ Man” I could muster. I played as if there were a thousand people cheering me on, sang at the top of my lungs, as the figurines throughout her room shook on the shelves, I could see her from the corner of my eye flinching her eye…
I played louder to help her get the full effect of the song I had just written to open my shows with a bang! Harmonica blaring, I hammered the keys with reckless abandon, defiling the chapel atmosphere with a rock and roll assault it never before knew existed.
When the song was over it was as if she had just been on a rollercoaster. I looked over – her hair stood a little taller and windblown, she was sweating, and shaking a bit. I said, “Isn’t that a cool song?!” She said, “That is a very catchy tune. You played it so loud it almost broke the piano”.
She calmly stood, walked across the room, and picked something up off the floor, setting it back on the shelf. ‘Twas the Baby Jesus, having fallen from the year round nativity soft bed of hay where so soundly He lay.
She never asked me to play her piano again.
2 – The Wellington
Just before the 2020 shutdown she moved into The Wellington, a care center with a built in community of friends and caregivers, where she was the resident pianist in the lobby. She had asked me for a few months if I could come and perform for everyone. It finally worked in my schedule to do so…and would turn out to be my final in-person event for months.
I wrote an article about it HERE that was one of the most popular I’ve ever penned.
I’ll always laugh at how she walked through the halls, me following behind, as she announced to each passerby, “This is my famous grandson, a world famous performer, have you heard of Jason Hewlett?” To which every single person stared at her blankly, or announced, “No, who is he?” She leaned in, “Where have YOU been? How on EARTH do you not know who he is? He is My Famous Grandson! This is him! He’s performing for us today! Don’t miss it!”
Not one person knew who I was in that place, but she was as proud and excited as could be.
Perhaps because I had performed for her church friends a decade prior, and she had come to every show when my name was in lights at theaters across Utah years prior, she assumed everyone must know me. She was so encouraging that way.
I performed a show I had written just for this audience of old folks at The Wellington, including trying numbers I had never attempted before, such as from the musical Oklahoma! To see an audience of people who could no longer speak or remember their names suddenly burst into chorus as I sang remains one of the great treasures of my life. VIDEO HERE of some of these moments.
To see my Grandma Julie, proud and happy, I think I even saw a tear shed…this time not from it being too loud, but because she was pleased…there are few performances that were more important in my life.
At the end she looked at me, grabbed my shoulder, pulled me down to whisper in my ear, hugged me, and said, “You are a musical genius, thank you for sharing your gift with my friends.”
It was my last performance for months, and the last time I saw her in person for over a year, due to the pandemic.
Her famous students included author Ben Behunin, who named a teacher after her in his Potter series of books as Mrs. Hewlett, since she was a favorite teacher of his youth; Jon Schmidt and Steven Sharp Nelson of worldwide The Piano Guys fame; John Bytheway, one of the most beloved LDS teachers of all-time; and the list continues to grow with each person I meet who had her as an inspiration and instructor.
I am amazed by her life, her passion for the arts, her devotion to her faith.
We are so grateful for the many who have reached out to share how she influenced their life. So grateful to The Wellington, the caregivers, the Goates Family, and my Mother, Marsha, for caring so lovingly and endlessly over the years, and especially the past few weeks, working so hard to help her comfortably transition into the next life.
I am sad she is gone from this earthly realm, but thankful she is reunited with her eternal companion, in their heavenly mansion above.
For 40 years, without my Grandpa Lester by her side, she was the best Grandma I could have asked for.
If there’s anyone who lived The Promise, it was my Grandma Julie.
My Facebook post about her passing
An amazing post by one of her students, Katie Hadfield Graham, written in 2009
~ Jason Hewlett
Husband, Father, Writer, Mentor, Hiker
- Speaker Hall of Fame * Award-Winning Entertainer * Coach & Mentor
- World’s Only Keynote Speaker utilizing entertainment, musical impressions, and comedy to teach The Promise
- Author of “The Promise To The One”