Last month, WCEA partners gathered for a long-overdue celebration of former partner Frances Peck’s retirement.
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.