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Remembering Janis

Remembering Janis, who sizzled with life.

It saddens us profoundly to report that Janis Barr, our dear friend and partner, died suddenly on November 18, 2015. Her adored husband, John, and other family members were by her side.

Janis joined West Coast Editorial Associates in 1997, a few years after relocating from Toronto to the Vancouver area. She worked mainly in educational publishing as a developmental editor of textbooks and teacher’s guides, applying to these projects the considerable skills she gleaned from an 18-year teaching career in her hometown of Edmonton. Janis was also an active volunteer with the Editors’ Association of Canada, having served as chair of the British Columbia branch and as national mediator.

“Finding the right words” is our business, yet we admit to struggling in this case, faced with trying to describe what Janis meant to us. Yes, we respected her editorial professionalism, her contributions to business decisions, and the tremendous role she played on our team. But so much more than that, we valued her great zest for life, her sense of humour, and her generous, unshakeably positive spirit.

We are beyond grateful to have had Janis in our lives.

 Remembering Janis . . .

From Audrey: When I think of Janis, I think of eating. Whenever our group gets together, we eat, whether it’s our post-meeting luncheons provided by Mainland or Island partners, pre-Christmas lunch at the Vancouver Club, or out-of-town dinners at a destination restaurant. As our long-time treasurer, Janis knew the state of the WCEA bank account and would wield the credit card when we were dining out. Her philosophy was that if we had the money, we shouldn’t skimp on food and drink. We were celebrating our partnership and our friendships, and once our bills were paid, money was best spent on well-prepared meals—and wine, which she always ordered for our feasts. I’ll miss her humour and her common sense, but even more I’ll miss her joie de vivre.

From Barbara: In 2001, the newsletter for the Editors’ Association of Canada ran a front-page profile of Janis after she became mediation chair. Her wonderful husband, John, had provided a photo of Janis to go with the profile—or at least he thought he had. Turned out the photo was of Janis’s Italian niece, a gorgeous teen. Janis’s response to this says everything you need to know about her: she laughed and laughed, hugely amused at the prospect of explaining what had happened to new acquaintances at EAC events who expected to meet a young Gina Lollobrigida. Janis was immensely generous in all ways, and it’s impossible to imagine what we will do without her wise counsel and her commitment to la dolce vita.

From Georgina: “Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life.” To me Janis, whether by nature or nurture, embodied this Khayyám-ian dictum. From the moment I met her—at a Christmas lunch (she joined WCEA the year after I did)—I was struck not only by how warm she was and easy to be with, but also by her carpe diem wisdom. Combine Janis’s ready laugh with her dual propensity to (a) aim the spotlight at others, not herself, and (b) ensure those with her were well looked after and you couldn’t help but feel buoyed by her, ready to squeeze the best from the moment just as she was doing. For all the happy moments I got to share with Janis—at meetings, conferences, parties, and even a few holidays (as recently as September)—I’m deeply grateful.

From Frances: When I first joined the partnership, I was a little intimidated by Janis. She was so certain and stylish. Her tastes were so refined. She arranged our Christmas lunches at the Vancouver Club, and she always insisted on fine wine, fine food, beautiful jewellery, elegant scarves. Then one time Janis and I took the ferry to a Victoria meeting with no other partners along, and she told stories from her girlhood. It shocked me to learn that she had grown up in modest circumstances. Janis? I thought. But she’s so regal. It was a good lesson: great ladies are born, not made. Janis was a great lady in every sense.

From Louise: I became a stalwart Janis Barr fan in the early 1990s, when we worked together on a thorny teacher’s guide. It was an intense time, but Janis was unflappable, her rich laugh smoothing ruffled feathers. Later, we co-taught a course on developmental editing for SFU. Many of her emails from that time ended with, “See you Friday night. We’ll drink wine and watch videos.” Big-girl sleepovers. Our communications tracked business matters and life events. Of menopause, she wrote, “It lasts about 30 years, so I have come to believe that we are ‘lost’ from our mid-forties on.” On how we should spend our money, “Let’s face it, ladies, a little pampering is in order.” Of emailed jokes, “I was laughing before I’d read the text.” And when some wisdom was needed, “If you wait long enough, someone will answer for you, and all you have to say is yes.” So, yes, Janis, yes. We hear you still.

From Merrie-Ellen: I had the pleasure of sharing a suite with Janis at WCEA’s 20th anniversary retreat in 2012. Not knowing her well, I was surprised and amused to find her watching a football game on television one afternoon, and to learn of her passion for the Edmonton Eskimos. (I’m not sure now why I should have been surprised, since it turns out that Janis loved many diverse things besides good wine and travel.) Janis died a couple of days before she and her husband, John, were to go to Edmonton to see her beloved Esks play in the CFL semi-final. It is bittersweet to think of how thrilled she would have been to see them win the Grey Cup on November 29. Whenever I hear news of her team, I will always think of Janis—and raise a mental glass of excellent red wine.

From Ruth: As I think about Janis in these days after her passing, and hold her in my heart, what first and most strongly comes to mind is her laugh. I can hear her—right now—and see her accompanying big smile. Janis, like all editors, was a communicator. For me, she communicated more through her laugh than in any number of words she might write. Her laugh always reminded me not to take myself too seriously, to enjoy life always, to celebrate both the large and small things. Somehow that laugh captured her intelligence, her wit, her compassion, and even her wonderful sense of style, and released it all to those who had the pleasure of her company. Rest well, my friend.

From Yvonne: Janis was a woman of many talents—an excellent editor, a wine connoisseur, an efficient treasurer—but one of her talents astonished us all. Janis had been a bingo caller. She surprised me with this revelation on a December afternoon when she was driving me to the ferry after one of our downtown Vancouver meetings. It was a long drive in rush-hour traffic with lots of time to chat. We already knew about her experience with ethnic fast food: she spent many Klondike Days in Edmonton helping at her father’s kolbassa stand. It turns out her bingo-calling career was also connected with her father. He was a community leader in the Boyle Street area of Edmonton where Janis grew up, and he was involved in the Boyle Street Community Centre. He asked Janis to call bingos on Sunday afternoons. Of course she volunteered without hesitation. That’s the Janis I knew—helpful and kind.

This Post Has 11 Comments
  1. Dear West Coast Editors:
    You’ve lost a treasure. I was so shocked when I read Janis’ obituary in the Globe and Mail — I had to e-mail Ruth to confirm that it was true.
    I worked with Janis many years ago on a Chemistry Teachers’ Guide. I’d done the text and she did the Guide. I was impressed all to heck! Then, when I met her at an EAC conference, I was doubly impressed. I can still hear her deep soft resonant comforting voice.
    I am so sorry for all of you.
    All the best, Rosemary

  2. I can’t tell you how much this tribute to Janis (including the wonderful recollections) means to me. It has been like a bright arrow piercing through the gloom left by her passing.
    Janis always felt lucky and blessed to have known all of you, and it’s so wonderful to learn that you felt the same way about her. You’re great people, all of you, and on behalf of Janis I thank you for remembering her so thoughtfully.

    John

  3. I’m sure that each of you is still in shock as Janis left us so suddenly. Your insights into her work life were so heartening to read and I kept nodding and smiling as I too recalled her zest for life, her varied interests, that wonderful laugh and best of all her total presence with whomever was in view.
    Thank you.

  4. So grateful to be able to read and reflect on these tributes. I’m so struck by the consistency in the observations of her personality and her sensibility. So…she was who she was, with all of us. In my heart, I know that.

    What a very beautiful series of testimonials, all in honour of our beloved Janis. She was a force and her impact on others, shining through.

    Love to see and read what she is to others, not just me; we were the lucky ones, to have had her so close.

  5. My condolences to you all. It is wonderful that you have put together this moving tribute and collection of memories for people to share.

  6. What well deserved tributes to a wonderful lady. She did have a
    great joie de vivre. We shared great friends, our enjoyment
    of Amantea, our love of Aida Pelligrini and her family and
    reminiscing about those wonderful summers in Italy.
    Janis was an accomplished educator with expertise in drama,
    ESL and across division levels. She took this expertise to her
    career in editing. She was gifted in working with people and
    her take on things was often the attention of the room. The
    scope of her friendships were wide and she was able to capture
    the best in many. She organized great travel adventures,
    treasured her Tucson getaway, loved the theatre and shared so
    much with John. What a huge loss for all who knew her.
    Her sparkle will be missed.

  7. Dear West Coast Editors:
    I’m so sorry you have had such a deep loss and appreciate your tributes to your colleague and friend.

  8. I’m very sorry to hear of Janis’s death. Although I only met her a couple of times, she left a vivid, elegant impression. And I was well aware of her reputation for editorial excellence. My condolences to her family and friends, and to everyone at West Coast Editors.

  9. I’m so sorry to hear of the loss of your colleague and dear friend. I never had the pleasure of meeting Janis, but I know she would have been part of the charmed circle that makes up the character of the West Coast Editors Association. My sympathy to you all.

  10. Condolences. Janis was originally from Edmonton, where I live, and one of the first editors I was in contact with after joining EAC. I am very sad to learn of her passing.

  11. My heartfelt condolences to all of you, especially John. How well do I remember Janis’s zest for life, her earthy laugh, her professionalism, and her upbeat approach to dealing with challenges. All of you are much in my thoughts.

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