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.