A Celebration of the Life of Janet Church
A True Savant, My Sister Janet
What a responsibility being the only survivor who grew up in the family of George Emmett and Jessie Eugenie Quisno Raitt.
One notch in a continuum that someone in all families finally experiences: the last and only survivor in whom all dreams,
recollections… happy or sad… of two generations are locked forever.
Both of Janet’s parents were very unique for any age: A brilliant father who put himself through college and medical
school with his wife’s support and encouragement; and a sensitive and brilliant mother , brought up in “ The
Home for the Friendless” , top of her high school class, who received a scholarship to the University of California
in Berkeley, and left Peoria, Illinois, with twenty –five dollars in her pocket and the dream of becoming a doctor,
at a time when few women attended universities! (I bet Mama had the twenty-five dollars hidden in a money belt, knowing her.)
Without financial help, Emmett told of living in attic rooms at Pomona College, and getting up before dawn to deliver dairy
products (butter) on his bicycle. His scholastic record was outstanding and he was elected to various student body positions
as well as participating in sports, including football, and other extra curricular activities.
His entry into the University of California Medical School was delayed for several years after graduating from Pomona College,
with a degree in architecture. There were evidently no student loans at that time, only hard work. In the interim, he was
a principal of a small school in Phoenix, Arizona, coached basketball, and built a house for his wife and family. The two
of them came close to dying in the flu epidemic of 1918, which took so many lives.
Later, he would be called “Pop” by his younger classmates in Medical School, as he was the oldest member of his
class and with a family of three daughters. By the way, Medical School took 8 years to complete plus a year in residency in
Boise, Idaho, where I was born. There he also contracted tuberculosis in his lymph nodes. I was told that selling his blood
to purchase medical books might have made him more susceptible.
He built a second house in Berkeley for his family which still stands on Grant Street, and while interning at San Francisco
General Hospital, he could only see his family infrequently due to the cost of taking a ferry boat and a train ride to Berkeley.
They had no money to spare, but my mother knew how to stretch every penny including turning my father’s shirt collars
and cuffs to prolong wearability. Emmett earned the most prestigious medical honor in his class, Alpha Omega Alpha. He also
brought home erysipelas to Janet from S.F General, and she nearly died. Both parents worked for hours bathing her in cold
baths to bring down her temperature of 107 degrees and saved her life.
Jessie cleaned professors’ houses at Cal and did her class prep at noon during her only free time of the day to study,
often sitting on the grass below the campanile BUT went on to graduate Cum Laude with a Masters Degree in Science and Literature
in 1918, just 2 units shy of pre-med requirements. She was proficient in Latin, Greek, French, and German. Her scientific
drawings were true art. Some were used as illustrations in Medical books and publications.
Emmett and Jessie met while working to earn money for school at Yosemite’s Camp Curry during the summers of 1915 and
1916. He was a senior at Pomona and she was attending U.C. Berkeley. My mother cleaned the tents and made the beds and my
father emptied chamber pots, or “thunder pots” as they were called. They had planned to be medical missionaries
in Africa, but when the girls were born…in spite of my father’s strong desire for boys…my mother was fearful
for their health away from the United States, and they settled in Santa Ana, where the Raitt family had settled years before
and my father was raised. It was during the Depression and in his first month of medical practice my father earned two dollars.
Jessie put aside her dream of becoming a doctor with the birth of her four daughters, though she had been accepted at both
U.C. and Stanford Medical School in 1918. She devoted her life and talents to raising these daughters: Janet, the scholar
and painter, Ellen, the portrait artist and nurse, Dorothy, the poet and the benefactress, and Marjorie, the educator. I was
probably my dad’s last hope for a son. It was a heavy load to carry for all of us, but he finally achieved his wish
later in life as evidenced by my brother Emmett, who is here today, and his brother Jimmy, now sadly deceased. Both are and
were remarkable sons, but that’s another generational story.
Janet was their first born and it is easier to understand her knowing of the sacrifices and hardships her parents experienced
and overcame. Her lust for living and learning and her fierce enthusiasm combined with hard work and love, describes her when
she graduated from Pomona College with a Phi Beta Kappa honor in English, until the day she passed. She shared all her gifts
with her family, friends and anyone with whom she came in contact. To me she was a giant among humankind!
The results of Janet’s labor and caring are evidenced in her four super- talented daughters: Kathleen, Cheryl, Wendy,
and Holly. Janet drove them to piano lessons, ballet classes, Girl Scouts, Sunday school and activities too numerous to mention.
She was in the car so much that she had two huge thermoses of hot tea at the ready. She also prepared pot luck dishes and
thousands of cookies and cakes for these different functions as well as sewing innumerable ballet costumes. Her daughters
all share in her appreciation of hard work, dance, literature, painting, writing poetry, scholarship and music, including
its production: playing piano, guitar, Turkish instruments, composing songs and singing.
Later Janet filled her free time by cleaning her dentist’s office on week nights, teaching painting, doing her own house
and yard work, running a framing business, caring for her mother, heading up discussion groups, and painting whenever she
could steal that time.
I know of no one who enjoyed more her work for Christ and her belief in his presence in our daily lives and in “baby
miracles” as she called them. I know of no one who read more books or even owned more books than my sister. Most were
second-hand. They were not light reading, either, but philosophy, biographies, history, religion, psychology, science, etc.
She also had an extensive film collection.
Her passion and wit permeated everything from cooking, eating with both visible and audible satisfaction (a true gourmande),
writing, collecting pictures of art and making art scrapbooks, collecting recipes, clipping articles from newspapers, landscape
painting, teaching art, collecting tons of good books, and sharing ideas gleaned from her research and readings in over 60
years of leading discussion groups and weekly family days with her mother, sisters, and friends. Her one-woman painting exhibition
at Whittier College was a high point recently with the help of daughters Holly and Cheryl. Within the last two weeks she sat
from four to eight, enjoying a function at this church in which Holly and Wendy sang together as they did in years past, probably
including some of Holly’s original compositions. She hardly complained to me during these last years when she became
so intimately acquainted with pain. Her positive attitude and tremendous spirit never failed her. She never faltered but
continued her many activities, including her 50 or 60 year membership in the Whittier Women’s Club where she regaled
the members with her witty writings about the effects of aging and her inspirational writings and her home-made enchiladas,
which she made by the dozens.
She was active in First Friends Church where she helped found the Friendly Cup, and each and every Sunday conducted a discussion
group which she so enjoyed, until the week before Easter. There was no Easter Sunday meeting because of the church brunch
and she enjoyed her day off at age 87, languishing in bed, reading and enjoying her favorite lemon bars, daughter Holly made
as a special treat. She said that they contained a quarter pound of butter which pleased her.
She had spent the week before visiting with daughter Wendy who has driven from Northern California to see her. She told me
when I called that she was so very happy and that they had such a wonderful time, never mentioning the three long afternoons
spent in the dialysis chair which so weakened her. Wendy said that every time she entered Janet’s room, she was met
with a big smile.
Janet disliked being dependent on anyone as her writings and frequent conversations with me proved, and she worked daily
on adjusting to this new phase of her life with the same fervor used to incorporate new and creative ideas into her way of
thinking and acting. She wrote in April 2002, “I am determined to grow old gracefully, whatever that means. I am determined
to take a positive attitude toward the changes.” She was successful in doing just that!
Fortunately for Janet, daughter Holly, who had been a helpmate for years, stepped in for the additional assistance she required
since December on a daily basis. Some time before ,she brought two dogs, Leo and Lady home to be companions for her. They
offered her boundless love and were protective of her. Leo said goodbye by licking her face after she died…a privilege
denied to him before, no doubt. He refused to leave her side.
Her other daughters traveled across the country whenever possible to support her with love and caring. They were a constant
intellectual support with their gifts of books and ideas. It was mutual! They helped introduce her to cable T.V. which she
watched on a television set her niece Linda bought for her. She really enjoyed watching CSPAN 2: Book T.V.: Book events. Hearing
authors discuss their books and how they wrote was very interesting to her. She had plans about writing her own book which
were interrupted by the dialysis treatments.
Along with comfort provided by relatives, her old friends and friends from First Friends Church, her long time art students,
the two Chrises, and members of the learning groups she belonged to, I add the names of three relatives: my son Pierre, who
asked to provide Meals on Wheels for the rest of her life, and her sister Dorothy, now deceased, and
Dorothy’s daughter Debbie, who rescued Janet financially for many years until her passing.
Janet learned to cope with the infirmities of the aging process and I’m certain that had she lived to be 100, she
would still be coping and doing all the things she loved to do, keeping her mind so clear by using it.
Janet, my oh so brilliant sister, I love you, and if Leo and Lady and kitty could speak, they would tell you how they miss
you as do we all!
Nee Marjorie Eugene Raitt
April 8, 2005