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Janet C. Poss (née Champney), selectman, state representative, former president of our local League of Women Voters, former president of the Shoreline Unitarian Universalist Society, founding member of Guilford A Better Chance, Shoreline Mental Health, Guilford Interfaith Housing, Democratic delegate, etc., etc., etc.—a friend to all, including her foes—Janet strived tirelessly to aid and assist her town and district with an inclusive instinct that brought together everyone; Democrats, Republicans, year-round residents, summer folks, men, women, all religions, atheists…even (gasp) Independents. At her home, joking with her sons in the afternoon on Sunday, Feb. 24, her heart quite suddenly stopped beating, she was only 96.
Janet was predeceased by her wildly smitten husband Eliasz (“Elek”) Poss in December 2017 after being together for 67 years. Elek was born into a big family in Krakow, Poland in 1927 with an older sister, a younger brother, loving parents, grandparents, and a host of aunts, uncles, and cousins, all of whom, save his sister and he, were killed in the concentration camps. When Allied forces liberated him from Mauthausen, he made his way to Italy, rejoined with his sister, and went to the University of Rome. On graduating, a scholarship brought him to New Haven, where his fluency in mathematics and a number of languages; Polish, Italian, and Hebrew didn’t help with English, so summer school was in order. Sometime in late June or July in a philosophy class at Columbia University, he was surprised by another student who came up behind him and put her hands over his eyes and said, “Guess who?” Just nine years later they were married.
While they courted, Elek graduated Yale; served in the Army for the Korean Conflict, which led to getting his citizenship; graduated Columbia; and mostly learned English—other than for the children, it was a happy union.
Born Red Sox fans in 1922, Janet and her twin brother grew up with an older sister and brother in Bedford, Massachusetts. Her mother had graduated Smith and her father, an architect, Harvard. She and her siblings attended public school and during the Depression the family took on boarders to make ends meet. Janet went to Boston College; being a younger woman she aided in the war effort grinding crystals for military communications equipment at General Radio. In the mid-’40s she took a job at Columbia University and was quickly promoted to department head, increasing her pay by almost a factor of five (she went from about $20 a week to nearly $100), which allowed her to buy a car. The salesman insisted an MG was no car for a woman and, somewhat annoyed, she eventually bought a VW Beetle that she kept driving into the late 1960s or so when it got donated to two young men making an urgent trip to Canada.
Shortly after her first child, Janet quit smoking, as she liked to tell him, “I could see the damage it caused.” They moved to Guilford, had their second son, and a few years later Elek got his PhD in physics. Janet got involved in the community right away, filling most evenings with committee meetings and most days with volunteer work, but she was always careful to not neglect her family and more importantly the 6:30 martini (three parts Gordon’s, one part Martini & Rossi, iced, strained, neat with olives). At a certain point in 1991, there were murmurs and suggestions that perhaps Jan, then 68, ought to throw her hat into the ring for Guilford’s state representative seat (she’d already been third selectman with Frank Larkins and Stan Barnes from ’83 to ’87). When she called her eldest and told him she was thinking of running, he replied, “…if you don’t run, you will lose…but if you win, I’ll buy you that MG.” She got her a red MG convertible in the spring and soon learned that the car salesman from 40 years earlier had done her a favor—it was cool car, impossible to keep in tune and periodically caught fire. It sure looked beautiful, but far more than the road, it loved the shop. She might have been starting to retire at age 80 when a couple of heart attacks (the first while walking on a brisk December 2002 morning to the Unitarian fellowship in Madison and a second 10 days later Christmas morning) made her realize retirement isn’t safe. She got a few more stents, ran again, and served until December 2005 with her old friends Gene Bishop and Carl Balestracci along with Joe Mazza and Harvey Smith on the Board of Selectmen. Besides her volunteer work, Janet was elected four times as a selectman, twice (’83 to ’85 and ’85 to ’87) before her two terms as state representative (’91 to ’93 and ’93 to ’95) and twice after (’99 to ’01 and ’03 to ’05).
A memorial is scheduled for Sunday, Sept 15 from 3 to 5 p.m. at the Guilford Community Center; all are invited. So many of us have fond memories and favorite stories about Jan—please come, bring photos, food, and drink, and celebrate her life. Further details can be found at www.guilfordfuneralhome.com.
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