If you’ve ever had a friend you truly loved, who made you laugh until your face hurt, then lost her to demon cancer, you know you can’t let her life go without a last, well deserved, round of applause.
I was lucky enough to meet Janet Reilly because our kids attended the same elementary school. I used to think I was funny, until I met Janet. She could absolutely slay you with her dry one liners, perfectly delivered and timed to make you choke with laughter. I could only hope to be that good.
Here’s some classic Janet. She had just had surgery and was recovering, but somehow got an infection and her health was quickly declining. Her daughter Megan, who’d just left her mom thinking she was recovering, had returned home. When she heard the awful news she flew back immediately and was at her mom’s side trying to write down her last wishes.
Megan was explaining to Janet that she jumped on the first plane she could and that her husband had packed two of their three dogs in the car and was on his way driving to L.A. from the east coast. In true Janet fashion, her dry reply was, “Wow, I guess I better die then, huh?” or words to that effect.
When Janet passed away her daughter said she refused to have her memorial called a memorial. She insisted they call it her “After Party.” God, I loved that woman!
If we were chatting and I said something that made her laugh, there was no higher compliment.
I was lucky enough to perform the old Abbot and Costello skit, Who’s on First with her at a Father-Son night at Mark Keppel Elementary. She was such a pro, the perfect straight woman, who even made rehearsing fun.
Later that night, we had story time, and when Janet got up to read a book by Roald Dahl, she had such command over the room, it went absolutely silent. If you’ve been around elementary school boys and their dads, you know that is no small feat.
Her Facebook page would often feature her mom’s delightfully sparse recipe cards. Here’s one Janet labeled: “Pressed for time? Try this quick and easy crowd-pleaser from my Mom’s recipe box. (I think Lois deliberately withheld her secret ingredients.)”
Her compassion was as impressive as her sense of humor. I lost my job in the 2008 recession, then got divorced and moved across the country for a couple years while living with and caring for my elderly dad. Then I came back and tried to piece my life together. These were not my best years.
So, kind-hearted Janet, who worked at the Autry Museum of the American West, said, “Hey we need someone at the Autry to run the Silent Auction, would you be interested?” I jumped at the chance! To work with my friend and actually make money sounded like a dream come true.
She was a total professional, brilliant at details, and an absolute delight, always popping her head in with one of her fabulous one-liners. As with any new job, I made a few mistakes…OK, maybe more than a few. Here’s what I’ll never forget about Janet. She always responded, “Well, I probably didn’t tell you the right way.”
Who says that?????
I have worked for decades in many, many places, but I’ve never had any boss say that and I’m quite certain I never will.
And on the actual night of the big fundraiser she was excellence in action. With an earpiece in one ear and a walkie talkie in her hand, she strode up and down running the show flawlessly. She was calm with absolute command over every situation that came up. Nothing flustered her.
We made 30 percent more on the silent auction that year than the year before and I absolutely know it was because she was there coaching me and helping me succeed every step of the way.
As for friends, there are many who tell you you’re their great friend, but Janet showed it.
After my divorce my son landed back in LA before I was ready to move back. He needed a place to stay and who do you think opened home and heart to him? Our lifelong friends Wayne and Sharon, and of course, Janet.
Andy loved sitting with her in the garage talking and listening to her tell stories between puffs on her cigarette. I’m pretty sure he told Janet and Bill how much it meant to have a place to land after his parents’ ugly divorce, and I think I thanked them too. It was a while ago and I just don’t remember.
My one big regret is over a phone call. She and Megan called me when she was recovering from surgery and there was hope she would pull through. I was at the grocery store, probably in a hurry to get something, and was thrilled to hear from them. But I felt like I had to get off the phone sooner than I wanted because of where I was. Why I didn’t just walk outside and chat for a while longer, I’ll never know. I had no idea it would be my last conversation with her.
Janet Harpham Reilly, if you’re listening, and I sure as hell hope you are, thank you from the absolute depths of my soul. You were everything I could have ever asked for in a friend and a boss, and so very much more.
I will always love you and could never possibly forget you. Rest in peace, my sweet, funny friend.
JaneNovember 20, 2022 at 9:04 am
Hi Fran, I’m a few days maybe more like a week or better catching up on emails after hurricanes, UK trip, and Thanksgiving/Christmas colliding. Truthfully it was JoAnn ( Sister JoAnn of the Eternal Word) who asked if I read your blog, oops “no” I said.
Your memories and thoughts of Janet were so heartfelt I had to read it twice. Wow, how blessed you were to have had a friend like her.
Hugs to all of my Tunno family in PA and Happy Thanksgiving 🦃. Hope you find a way to get down to Florida!
Xxxooo Jane and Duke
Fran TunnoNovember 22, 2022 at 10:24 pm
My Dear Jane, I appreciate you reading my blog whenever you get to it, No pressure here, but I guess I should start paying JoAnn, huh? Thank you for your kind words. Janet was truly one of a kind. She totally could have been a huge star, but instead became a star in my immediate galaxy. I was so lucky to have her in my life. Thanks for reading, twice! And thanks for taking the time to write a response. I always love hearing what people have to say. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving. I must call so I can hear about the trip! Hugs to all your family. Wish me luck, the Cutthroat Tunno Pumpkin Pie competition is upon us.
Matilda NovakNovember 19, 2022 at 10:15 pm
That was beautiful….
Fran TunnoNovember 22, 2022 at 10:20 pm
Thank you Matilda. She was a beautiful person, you would have loved her!
Nicol ZNovember 19, 2022 at 3:00 pm
What a beautiful tribute, Fran. I am so sorry for the loss of your friend and one who seemed to make the world a brighter place. Sending you and all who loved her joy in your memories and comfort in your hearts.
Fran TunnoNovember 19, 2022 at 7:46 pm
Thank you Nicol. She was truly a bright star in my life and the lives of so many others.
Bill ReillyNovember 19, 2022 at 8:32 am
Thank you Fran for your wonderful tribute to my wife, Janet. We had our first date in September of 1970 and were married in September 1990. I knew how lucky I was. My whole adult life was focused on being her husband and partner. It was important to me that she thought well of me. She was simply a beautiful woman in every way. We had 2 beautiful children that were an extension of our love for each other. I am soldiering forward with her ever on my mind. I am working on continuing to make her proud of me as I attempt to navigate the rest of my life without her.
Fran TunnoNovember 19, 2022 at 9:36 am
Oh Bill, she was extraordinary. And if it’s hard for the rest of us, I can only imagine how hard it is for you. She was a delight and her kindness, intelligence and warmth (plus yours) lives on in your kids. I just hosted Megan last weekend and she is a tribute to you both. What a sweetheart! Hang in there and know Janet is a part of you, and always will be. Life can be so cruel, giving us such a great love, then snatching her away. But at least you had that great love that so many can only wish to have.
margaz2013November 18, 2022 at 2:57 pm
What a beautiful tribute, Fran. Janet was an asset to the Keppel community as she always found the humor and light in any situation. Megan was in my class and I am so sorry I did not know of Janet’s illness or passing. Her light and spark will be missed by her family and friends. She is a parent that I have fond memories of and I know her inspiration for life, joy, humor, compassion, and love for her friends and family will live on through all she touched. Keeping in my prayers family and friends who feel so deeply this loss. Sending special prayers to you, Fran, and to Megan. May Janet Rest in Peace.
Fran TunnoNovember 19, 2022 at 11:00 am
Thank you Marianne. I don’t think they published an obituary for her, at least I couldn’t find one online. She was a rather private person, so I hope she doesn’t mind me writing this. She deserved some accolades. I hope she’s resting comfortably and that hilarious, generous spark of hers is flying through the universe, ready to land on some lucky recipient.
lafridayNovember 18, 2022 at 1:07 pm
Janet Reilly was a wonderful friend, and as you so aptly described, one of the funniest people on the planet. She and I would usually sit next to one another at executive board meetings—where her witty whispered asides had me laughing out loud—and got us both in trouble from our parliamentarian who threatened to separate us. We were in a writing group together and I still laugh at the thought of a piece she wrote about a job she briefly had before she found her place at the Autry. When I moved from California two decades ago, Janet put together a backpack for the road, filled with snacks, a couple of books on tape, and other travel necessities, further evidence of her great big heart and thoughtfulness matching her wicked humor and cockeyed takes on the world at large. Janet was also a devoted wife and mother who raised two beautiful (and funny) children and talked of her husband as if she were a misty-eyed teen-aged girl crushing on her first love. What a blessing to have known and loved this gifted woman who was a joy to all who knew her. (I feel the same way about you, dear Fran). Thank you for so beautifully honoring Janet. 😘
Fran TunnoNovember 19, 2022 at 11:09 am
Beautifully said Linda, I think I should just hire you to write my blogs! I wish the world could have known her, but I count myself as one of the very lucky ones who did and who got to call her a friend. It was people like her, you, my Stepping Stone comrades and the wonderful teachers who made Keppel the special place it was for our kids and for us!
Patty KingNovember 18, 2022 at 9:48 am
You did her proud, Goddess! Thank you! ♥️
Fran TunnoNovember 19, 2022 at 11:10 am
Coming from you, her closest friend, that is a very high compliment. Thank you Goddess! xoxo
Lorna GilesNovember 18, 2022 at 9:44 am
Thank you Fran for sharing this beautiful tribute of Janet. I lost my best friend over ten years ago and it still seems like yesterday..Have a wonderful Holiday with your family..
Fran TunnoNovember 19, 2022 at 11:12 am
Thank you Lorna, for reading and taking the time to write. I think when people leave a mark on our hearts, the pain of their loss can resurface at any time, leaving us in a puddle of tears. But I suppose that’s proof of how deeply we loved them and how lucky we were to have had them for whatever time we did. Enjoy the holiday with your beautiful family!
Ed McCannNovember 18, 2022 at 9:37 am
What a lovely tribute to your friend. May your heart be at peace.
Fran TunnoNovember 19, 2022 at 11:13 am
Oh Ed, she was such a joy. You would have loved her. I am going to attempt a phone call this weekend. I hope you’re around! Either way, have a wonderful Thanksgiving!
firstname.lastname@example.orgNovember 18, 2022 at 9:30 am
Thank you Fran for sharing this beautiful tribute. Mark Keppel truly was and still is a very special place filled with so many wonderful awesome families. Naehi Wong, our wonderful Korean dual language coordinator, just passed away. She, too, was witty and bright and loved kids and was exceptional in every way. Love you Fran. Big hug, friend! 💕
Fran TunnoNovember 19, 2022 at 11:16 am
Oh Mary, you would know better than anyone how special Keppel was! I’m so sorry to hear about Naehi. Perhaps those whose light shines the brightest also burn out the fastest, but what a joy to witness while we’re in their presence. My deep sympathy to you and Naehi’s family. Thanks for reading and taking the time to write.
Frances RothenbergNovember 18, 2022 at 9:26 am
Thank you Fran for writing this about Janet.
Her wit, kindness and humanity were
Fran TunnoNovember 19, 2022 at 11:17 am
Thank you Frances for reading and taking the time to share your thoughts. I totally agree.
JoAnnNovember 18, 2022 at 9:21 am
Beautiful story Fran about a very special friend And wonderful memories to last a lifetime
Happy Thanksgiving to all of you in Pa, God bless
Fran TunnoNovember 19, 2022 at 11:19 am
JoAnn, I can’t thank you enough for always reading and taking the time to comment. It really means so much to me. She was a an absolute joy to hang around with. You would have loved her. I wish all of you a wonderful Thanksgiving!
cynthiaanngoodmanNovember 18, 2022 at 9:15 am
As usual, beautiful.
Fran TunnoNovember 19, 2022 at 11:20 am
Awww Cynthia. Thank you. I’m wishing you a wonderful holiday season. Tell Z, I’m ready to play hostess if she’s interested. xoxo
Cindy BozekNovember 18, 2022 at 7:25 am
That was a beautiful tribute Fran. I have 2 best friends and I don’t know what I would do without them. Love you 💕
Fran TunnoNovember 19, 2022 at 11:21 am
Hey Cindy, I know exactly how you feel. I have two I feel exactly the same way about. I can’t imagine life without them. And some of us are lucky enough to have cousins we love too! Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!!!!