Society members and friends pay tribute to Janet Glass, who passed away peacefully on April 28 and whose life was celebrated with a memorial service on May 22. Janet was a longtime member who held many leadership roles, including president, and was a prominent local activist for the environment and for social and racial justice.
Janet’s family asked that anyone moved to make a donation in her honor choose the scholarship for early language educators that was created to honor the professional legacy of Janet, who was National Language Teacher of the Year in 2008: The Janet Glass ACTFL Convention Stipend Fund for Early Language Educators.
A model for living: The news of her diagnosis was devastating. She told us in that straightforward attitude that she always held… no drama, very personal, allowing us to be the ones who were upset. She told us of her decision to allow treatment, as long as she wasn’t debilitated. It turned out that she had great tolerance for side effects that “weren’t debilitating,” in other words, ones that would have turned the rest of us into a mewling puddle. And on top of it all, there was Covid! It prevented us from being with her, or at least weighing the risks constantly. She made the decision to go into hospice, then opened her home to allow us the opportunity to be with her and other friends and family members, sharing her intellect, her curiosity for life, her enjoyment of life. She was immensely brave. She lived her death as she had lived her life…facing it honestly, strong in her decision-making, clear-headed, and with much love. I will continue to be devastated by her loss for the rest of my life and will keep her life as a model for living.
Calm, resolute courage: There are few people we meet in life, other than immediate family or spouse, who leave a profound impact. I was a latter-day friend of Janet’s.
She had a way with people, greeting me warmly at platforms, remembering my name even when I didn’t wear a name tag. Her saying “hi” was genuine and what usually followed was never a routine shtick of small talk.
She had this thirst for knowledge to find out more about those she met. I was newly divorced when Janet and I ran into each other at a demo in Ridgefield Park and she introduced me to GreenFaith. I took a double-take at first, since I was supposedly the religious one. I got my congregation to join the group. She had this way of encouraging people, drawing them out of their shells. When she told our GreenFaith Circle about her devastating diagnosis, I was very upset and vowed to get to know Janet better.
Her calm, resolute courage to navigate through up-and-down rough seas, the ability not only to stomach setbacks, but to find a silver lining, as in “Oh, my chemo is delayed a week because of Covid—imagine that—now I won’t feel nauseous for a whole week.” Or… Covid, being an equalizer for the immunocompromised, opening the door for her to participate, as much as anyone, via screen.
Whenever we talked or met, she would divert attention from herself, full of curiosity about my writing efforts or green activities, with advice and anecdotes not to let anything discourage you, not to take no for an answer, but think of new ways to make your voice heard.
Janet viewed things with a scientist’s perspective, always calm and rational, prepared for a crapload of side effects and stubbornly devising the best, workable countermeasures. Till the end, Janet was mentally sharp, interested, and curious, which, she confided, helped her endure. Calling her in her final weeks, it was always a thrill to hear her answer. Sometimes she was in the middle of something, and she’d say, I’ll call you back, and sure enough, right on the dot she’d ring. I miss seeing her secret Janet Glass “recipe” of passion, charm, and wit at work in this world, but wait… It’s here. She’s awoken and instilled it in people near and far. In nobody more than her daughters and families, especially her grandson, Max.
As I started out, few people touch us deeply, profoundly, with chemistry flowing freely in both directions. Thank you, Janet, lover of people and a fairer world.
Harry Vetter, Upper Nyack, NY
Double or triple the usual amount of living: Janet was lovely and gracious and hardworking and smart and wise and dedicated. She was a good friend to me, and somehow, also to so many others. She seemed to have figured out how to cram double or triple the usual amount of living and helping into each minute. How lucky are those of us who knew her.
Her calmness calmed me: From the moment that I met Janet I took a great liking to her. Her ever-smiling face was enough to put one in a good mood. She led an exemplary life, admirable in so many ways, strong, dedicated, intelligent, capable, and most friendly. I got to really know her and became friends with her when she was Finance chair and, as a member of the committee, I was doing the annual Community Dinner events. What a great partnership that was. Besides everything else about her, I found her to be the most gracious, kind, generous, positive, and loving human being ever. Her calmness calmed me during stressful times.
I will always treasure the friendship we had. I will miss her greatly.
Love of learning was contagious: Janet’s love of learning, especially of her cherished Spanish language and the Latino cultures, was contagious. Her example encouraged others to explore, persist, and absorb. As active, effective, and softly effusive as she was in life, so was she gracious in facing her own demise. She leaves us enriched.
Her ripples will be felt for generations: Janet was an inspiration. Her commitment to everything she did, concern for others, and complete lack of ego made her an exceptional human being who positively impacted many lives. Her presence was large, and her ripples will be felt for generations to come. Her legacy is significant and the rest of us can only hope to live up to her example. I miss her presence but cherish the memories I have of her.
She showed me how to be: Of the many ways that Janet Glass showed me how to be, one that stands out is an interaction I witnessed between her and Gov. Phil Murphy a few years ago. Janet fought tirelessly (and ultimately successfully) against the proposal for a power plant in the Meadowlands. At one of the public forums on this topic, Janet asked thoughtful, intelligent questions of the governor, which gently showed the inconsistency in his stated policy and his actions on this issue. She never raised her voice and never criticized; she remained respectful and patient and genuinely curious, creating room for a true dialogue with the governor.
I, our Society, and the larger community are better off because Janet was among us.
Bold but gracious, and tremendously effective: Janet was a force of nature.
As everyone is aware, no one worked as tirelessly on issues dear to Ethical as Janet did, especially those involving environmental activism. Her impressive representation of our Society with politicians and the media was bold but gracious, and she was tremendously effective.
My best memory of Janet is when she and I went to the Broadway theatre together, followed by dinner. Little did I know Janet was building up to asking if I’d serve on Ethical’s Board of Trustees as co-chair of Finance. Grateful but intimidated, I resisted. But Janet was never one to take “No” for an answer. A couple of weeks later, she had me! I owe Janet a debt of gratitude for relentlessly selling me on the idea, thereby involving me in the inner workings of the Society and leading to close friendships with folks I’d not have gotten to know well otherwise.
Along with her many other attributes and skills, Janet was an awesome folk dancer! I’ll never think of her without remembering how she led a group of us in various ethnic dances at the two Community Weekends I attended. Such fun.
Janet’s love of life and enthusiasm were contagious. I miss her.
Smart, accomplished, and completely down-to-earth: When I began my video interview series, Members Remember, the first person I wanted to talk to was Janet. Despite being ill, she was more than happy to be my guinea pig. Janet was gracious and good-humored, as always. I was impressed once again that a woman who was so smart and accomplished could be so self-effacing and completely down-to-earth. I have to say that interviewing Janet was a pleasure and gave me the confidence to continue.
A role model for me: I first met Janet Glass in the late ’90s, when she volunteered to be a facilitator for a weekly LGBTQ support group for youth, offered by the Gay & Lesbian Task Force of our Bergen County Ethical Culture Society. This group ran every week for nearly 10 years. Janet was there from the beginning, and was our most committed and loved volunteer, facilitating the group nearly every week to offer her support, love, and calm to these youth. Through the years, as Janet joined Ethical Culture and became more involved, she has put her heart and soul in all that she has done. Janet has been a steady presence in ALL aspects of our Ethical Culture community, and in doing so, truly exemplified our core value of treating each human with dignity and respect so as to bring out the best in them and thereby ourselves. Janet did this with such ease and grace. Janet will forever be a role model for me–a role model for how to grandparent, for how to live life to the fullest, but most importantly, for how to die. Janet died the way she lived, with openness, honesty, dignity, and grace. There is no one I have known quite like Janet Glass; I miss her terribly, and she is in my heart always.
Lucky to have had Janet Glass in our lives: Many friends have remarked about the equanimity with which Janet faced death and the ease with which she spoke of her terrible diagnosis. I have also come to see that during this very difficult time, Janet’s thoughts were as much with others as with herself. She was always thinking of loose ends not yet tied up and how she could make it easier for friends and family to talk with her about the cancer and ultimately to deal with her death.
When Janet received her diagnosis, she made no secret of the fact that she strongly considered forgoing treatment in order to maintain her own dignity and sense of self. There is also no doubt that she accepted treatment—treatment that was very hard on her—in large measure so that her grandchildren Max, Roxy and Thalia, would have time with their abuela. Without doubt, Janet loved being with them and treasured the extra time chemotherapy gave her to enjoy them, but she also understood how important it is for children to know they are loved, to know it viscerally by being hugged and kissed and cuddled, and to have deeply rooted memories as they grow older of how much they meant to their abuela.
The death of a loved one is never easy, but modern society has distanced us from death so much that we are not always prepared to handle our feelings when it happens, and this is particularly true for children, who lack the experience of having gone through it before. Not long ago, Janet told me how much thought she’d given to making her death easier for Max, Roxy, and Thalia without sugarcoating anything. As many of you know, Janet arranged to be cremated and have her ashes mixed with the nurturing soil surrounding a memorial tree, which is located in a beautiful forest. She made sure to make the kids a part of that decision by taking them there to see the very tree where her remains would blend into the earth. She explained to them in terms they could understand at their respective ages the ways in which she would live on in their memories as they grew up and continue to be a presence in their lives long after her physical presence was gone.
Max, Roxy, and Thalia are lucky to have had Janet as their abuela and we are lucky to have had Janet Glass as a presence in our own lives.
We miss Janet’s sage advice: Janet was a passionate activist, a friend, mentor, and role model for how to live and how to die, and we are most grateful to have known her and engaged in social action with her through Ethical.
She was one of the most giving people we have ever known. Her generosity, not just of material things given to Ethical, but her time, intellect, and passion for making the world a better place for all were almost unparalleled.
She was the mainstay of the Social Action Committee for many years and did much of the legwork to organize and implement our commitment on issues such as racial justice and the environment.
Nor was her generosity limited to these grand issues. When she was president of the Society, she stepped up to assume many of the leader’s responsibilities when Joe Chuman was deeply burdened by grief. She took guests to lunch with her good friend Barbara Katz Rothman when she spoke here. She did all of these and many more as if it were the most natural thing in the world, as if not doing it wouldn’t even have occurred to her. In short, she was a mensch.
Indeed, we often find ourselves thinking, when problems or issues come up, that we miss Janet’s sage advice, and we wonder what she would do.
Elaine Fondiller and Dan Rosenblum