Jan Swanson / Janet T. Swanson
Founding Mother of the North Fork Women for Women Fund
September 19, 1935 — August 26, 2000
New York Times obit:
Donna Lopiano’s Eulogy:
Remembrances of Janet T. Swanson
September 16, 2000 Memorial Service, Cutchogue, NY
I remember well the night I first met Janet T. Swanson. I cooked an Italian dinner for Colleen McDonough and Helen Hook and several of their friends at their cottage in Orient, and one of those guests was Jan. That night, Jan fell in love — with my meatballs, my mother’s apple turnovers and what the Women’s Sports Foundation was all about….teaching girls and women through sport to be healthy, strong, confident, competitive and heroic.
Jan’s relationship with the Foundation was just one small piece of the philanthropic feminist tapestry she wove throughout her life. Whether it was funding a girls’ sports grant program with the Foundation or cheering at the more mature women’s softball games of Pets Express here on the North Fork, Jan knew what sport could do and did do for women and their mental and physical health.
Women’s health was her life’s work and both a personal and social issue…as was women’s art and women’s community. Jan didn’t just talk about these issues…she did something about them. She became personally involved…she served on boards, she ran events. Yes, she was a donor…but she also muscled others — friends and family — to be donors and doers too…probably most of us here assembled. I loved the way she would say, “Lopiano, you should give me a $200 check for this organization.”…and I knew it was an order…not an ask.
She pushed us to give generously of our time and money and other assets to women’s causes…especially to help girls and women who weren’t as fortunate as we were. She reached across generations to pull young women into the fold, encouraging them to get involved. She should have been a real estate agent for all she did to shape the look and feel of the North Folk community. Jan Swanson made us better people because she demanded that we participate and give back … and for that we are grateful.
On a more personal note, I loved Jan because she was a leprechaun — playful and quick witted and sharp tongued…almost too quick sometimes. I remember when Billie Jean King called her to thank her for something she did for the Foundation. The phone rings and Billie says, “Hi Jan…I’m Billie Jean King”…to which Jan replies, “and I’m Eleanor Roosevelt”. — she was mortified and for one of the few times in her life, speechless!
One of Jan’s favorite photographs was her with Martina Navratilova. She never had to show it to anyone…because it was placed strategically at eye level on a book shelf in her house where it could hardly be missed. She’d sit on the sofa reading a newspaper, glancing out of the corner of her eye at visitors looking at the photo …she just loved to see their reactions when they realized who she was with.
Jan was always plotting happiness for others in ways they didn’t realize until it happened. I can only give you examples of the plots to which I was a party…you know there are many more. Whether it was trying to get Lucy Steele to the sold-out finals of the Women’s World Cup in California or soccer goalie and gold medalist Saskia Webber to sit at her table with her friends at the Foundation’s annual Benefit or having Martina Navratilova come over to visit her guests, Jan was all about giving to others in the most understated and unobtrusive way… she would simply chuckle about it on her way home with a gleam in her eye. That is what made her the happiest… giving to others.
Happiness to Jan was also running things…telling us how it should be done. Never put a Thomas’ English muffin in the toaster because it’s already cooked on one side. If you want to keep bread fresh, keep it in the freezer. What did she know about bread?
Whether it was laundry or putting a stamp on an envelope or how small the pieces had to be when you cut up a peach, Jan knew how it should be done and made sure you knew it too. It’s only been a few weeks since Jan’s death, but I’m sure she’s running heaven now.
I’m also sure that Jan is here right now…probably checking out the details of this event and how it’s been organized…whether there’s a contribution basket in the back of the church to accept the check you should write to NFWFWF as you leave. I hope someone remembered!
But if she could talk, I think there are three things she would say. First, she would thank all of you for being there when she needed you the most…especially Dot Abbott and Lucy Steele who were always there through the toughest of times, but to all of you who stopped by to visit, drop off soup and flowers and leave your love. Second, she would especially thank all of you who helped her do leprechaun things. Third, she’d be telling all of us to keep on helping women’s causes and supporting each other.
On behalf of the Women’s Sports Foundation, thanks Jan, for all you have done for girls and women in sport. And personally, thanks so much for letting me be a part of your wonderful life.
Executive Director, Women’s Sports Foundation