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The town lost a legend this past February with the passing of Janet Poss, a woman whose decades-spanning political career in Guilford left a mark on thousands of lives, and whose nature, described as fearless and self-reliant, touched many more. On Sunday, Sept. 15, the League of Women Voters and the Town of Guilford are sponsoring a memorial at the Guilford Community Center to honor Poss, inviting anyone and everyone who has a story, memory, photograph, or other memento to share with the community and remember a person who left a unique mark on the town and its people.
Poss was born in Bedford, Massachusetts, attending Boston College and working for a time at Columbia University. She moved to Guilford in the 1960s with her husband and two sons, and spent the rest of her life serving the town and in various capacities, including four terms on the Board of Selectmen and two terms as a state representative.
More than anything, Poss is remembered by those who knew her as a staunch advocate for all people in need, and for an unflappable sense of duty and commitment to her principles.
League of Women Voters President Elise Low, who is organizing the memorial, remembered Poss for her service outside of government.
“Knowing that she was part of the housing partnership, Human Services Council, economic development, interfaith housing—that kind of gives you a picture of what she cared about, and that was people and their ability to survive in a tough world,” said Low.
A chance to speak and share memories for someone who has passed is especially important for a person like Poss, whose larger-than-life impact spanned so much time and affected so many. Tom Poss, Janet’s elder son, said bringing together all the people who knew his mother is the best way to remember and celebrate her.
“These people didn’t all necessarily know each other,” he said.
Remembering as a broader community and including people from every organization or era that had known his mother would allow people to really understand who she was, Poss said.
“She was friends with Republicans and Democrats, with just everyone—she worked with everyone,” he said.
What both Low and Poss said they wanted most at the memorial was to hear stories. Janet Poss’s personality and ability to persevere in the face of threats and adversity left those who knew her with plenty of remarkable memories of her.
Both Low and Tom Poss recalled specifically the 1991 push for a state income tax as a defining period of Janet Poss’s life, an incredibly controversial issue that she supported as a state representative.
During that time, a car Poss was riding in was run off the road by someone attempting to intimidate her, according to Low. Another time, someone fired a gun into her house.
According to Tom Poss, his mother was home when the house was fired upon. When her husband expressed concern that someone might be shooting at them, Janet Poss dismissed the idea, saying it was probably just a car backfire.
The bullet was not discovered until much later, when Poss’s other son, David, noticed a mysterious new hole in the door.
These incidents did not prevent Poss from running for office again, according to Low. She ran successfully and served another term as state representative following the passing of the income tax.
“She wasn’t going to let anybody bully her,” Low said.
Poss was also a determined politician. Tom Poss recalled another incident where his mother had a dog bite and latch on to her arm while chatting with a prospective voter. Not wanting to offend the dog’s owner, Janet Poss continued the conversation until the dog let go, and only later got treatment for the bite wounds.
With all the people who knew and loved her, Tom Poss said, he hoped to hear many more of these kinds of stories at the memorial.
“I had one person who is my mother, the person I knew,” said Poss. “But the community had another person...it’s for the community.”
For more information on the memorial, visit www.guilfordfuneralhome.com.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story stated amemorial would be held on Saturday, Sept. 15; the memorial is on Sunday, Sept. 15.
The 2020 guide to the Madison Chamber of Commerce has arrived!