Together forever, my love - Randy Ray

'Thanks for giving me a great life'

These were the last words of Janis Annabella Ray to her husband, Randy Ray, as cancer took her 10 July 2015.

'Together forever, my love'

 

Image: Photo of Randy Ran and Janis Ray, taken in St. Lucia, 2015.
Randy Ray and Janis Annabella Ray in St. Lucia, January 2015. Photo provided by Randy Ray.

 

These were the last words of Randy Ray as he concluded his summary of his life with Janis since they became high school sweet hearts.

I had planned to write in celebration of the Janis I had come to know but after reading the below, written by Randy Ray who, among other achievements is a contributing editor to True North Perspective, I concluded that the best one to talk about Janis was her long-time dancing partner, Randy. So Randy has the floor. — Carl Dow, Editor.

Hello:

Let me begin by thanking everyone for coming today to celebrate and pay tribute to Janis’s life.  Janis, I know, would be very pleased with the turnout.  I can say the same on behalf of our family, sons Chris, Andrew and Marcus, daughter-in-law, Elena, and Janis’s brothers Gary and Ken and sister-in-law, Madeleine.

Your presence means a lot to our family.

When delivering an address such as this, it is crucial in my view, that that the life of the person being remembered be put into context.  I’ll do that by giving a brief history of Janis, followed some deeper insight into what she was all about, and to close, I’ll say a few words about what my family and others have learned since she became sick in February 2014.

Janis was born in 1955 in the Danforth and Pape area of Toronto and a few years later moved with her mom and dad Sid and Flo Jeffries to Scarborough where she attended public school and high school.  She grew up in the company of older brother Gary and younger brother Ken.

Of significance, I suppose, is that when she moved to her home on Wexford Boulevard, the man she would marry some years later, was living a mere half mile away.

After attending George Peck Public School, Janis moved on to Wexford Collegiate in 1969.  Many of you will remember ‘69 as the year Neil Armstrong became the first man on the moon.  It was also the year Jimi Hendrix, Joe Cocker and many other musical greats performed at Woodstock.

But those who are truly in the know about Canadian history are no doubt, aware of a much bigger event took place that same year:  ‘69 was the year that Janis and I struck up a relationship while attending high school, she in grade 9, me in grade 12.

Not certain is who chased who around the halls to fan the flame.  But what is very certain is that it was love at first sight.  We were high school sweet hearts.  Our first date was a dance at WA Porter Collegiate in Scarborough on Dec. 20, 1989 featuring rock band Luke and the Apostles.

Neither of us knew it at the time but it was the beginning of a union that would last just shy of 46 years.  Without knowing it, at the tender ages of 14 and 17 we had asked one another a question that Anne Murray would sing in one of her most popular hit songs:  “Could I Have This Dance for the Rest of My Life?”

More on that song later.

So smitten were we with each other, that three years after we met and long before we were married, we brought a child into the world.  That would be our eldest son Chris.  Just about everyone who has attended high school knows of a couple that landed in this predicament. Many marry as teenagers and the result is not always ideal.  We were determined that would not happen to us.

We loved our son dearly but decided that marriage was not an option – not then at least.  With the help of Janis’s VERY UNDERSTANDING mom and dad, Janis raised Chris in her parents’ home for seven years while I finished my education and found work in the newspaper biz.  She was a great mom – as a distant daddy, I was not the greatest father.  Bless your hearts Sid and Flo for everything you did for us and our boy.  Thanks for not running me out of town.  Thanks for having faith in your daughter and I.

While raising Chris, Janis worked as a bookkeeper and receptionist, among other things.  While I was living in London and Woodstock, both of us dated others over the years but the Randy-Janis flame was never squelched.

In June 1980, life took an about face.

While out for a walk one day – a voice in my head shouted:  Randy you silly fool, marry Janis – she is the best thing that ever happened to you.  A day or so later, I asked Janis to marry me.  We were united on Nov. 28 that year, and our wedding song was, what else, the aforementioned Anne Murray tune, Could I Have This Dance For the Rest of My Life … Just days later she and Chris pulled up stakes and moved to London where I was a reporter with the London Free Press.

We lived happily in London for six years.  In 1983 second son Andrew was born.  Janis dabbled in various jobs but mostly excelled in the field of raising children and helping renovate our 100-year-old duplex on Hellmuth Avenue, including playing a key role in its conversion back to a single family home in 1985.

1986 brought us another life changer.

To the complete surprise of our family, I was offered a job as Parliament Hill reporter for the London Free Press.  We accepted the job and moved to Ottawa for what we thought was two years.  Janis loved the city and once my posting was up, we decided to stay in Ottawa.  I quit the newspaper and launched my freelance writing business.  We would never return to London.

We lived in four houses in Ottawa and in 1989, Janis gave the family a third son, Marcus.  During the Ottawa part of her life, Janis worked in retail and clerical jobs and for many years worked at her specialty – caring for kids.  For several years she looked after the three Donaghy children, who lived within walking distance of our home on Louisiana Avenue.  It was often said she was their second mother.  She remains close to Katie, Michael and Steven to this day.

In June 2013, we moved into our current home on Bulrush Cres., in Findlay Creek, just up the road from here.  Life was good – great in fact.  We had downsized, we were both working less, we were travelling, and Janis loved the house and our many new neighbors. 

But in February 2014, our lives would change forever:  Janis felt a pain in her lower abdomen while we were in the Dominican Republic and on May 21, we received the worst possible news:  she had stage 3 ovarian cancer.  The evil disease was inside her body and from that day on a dark cloud hovered over our family.

Ever hopeful, Janis bravely underwent six rounds of chemo therapy with surgery in the middle. Last Christmas, we were told her cancer was gone.  But after amazing trips to St. Lucia and Florida in the winter of 2015 - when for the most part she felt great - the evil disease returned.  More chemo could not stop it.

After battling her illness for more than 500 days, she passed away peacefully on July 10.  Our family and her many friends were devastated but in reality her passing was a blessing from heaven considering she had been in pain for probably 480 of those 500 days

And you know what?  Unlike others taken by the evil disease, it never affected Janis on the outside.  From start to finish, doctors and nurses remarked that she did not look like a woman who was sick.  Janis looked great on the day she left us.  As a matter of fact, a few days before we lost her she told me her father would probably enroll her in Weight Watchers the day one she joined her parents up there.

…………………………………………..

So, who was Janis Ray?

First, the point form version.

Janis loved children, playing scrabble, sitting by the St Lawrence River at our favourite Inn, sipping rum and Coke, travel to Newfoundland, in particular to the west coast community of Rocky Harbour.  She enjoyed home decorating, visiting the Kootenay Region of BC.  She loved chatting with neighbours and was a voracious reader.  She loved Newfie music, her favorite band being Anchors Aweigh, the house band at the only hotel in Rocky Harbour.

She was an excellent back seat driver, if you know what I mean; she was not a fan of air travel. She always complained that her husband asked too many questions, whether we were buying a sofa or meeting with a doctor.  She regularly told me I talked too loud.  And it drove her crazy when me and the boys left the price tags on Christmas and birthday gifts.  

It was okay for her mother to call her Jany but when I did it, she gave me the evil eye. And she must have chuckled a thousand times over the years when people spelled her name wrong:  for the record, it’s Janis as in Janis Joplin, JANIS, not JANICE.

She loved to shop ... "Retail therapy," as she referred to it.  She loved small dogs, in particular Cooper, our Bichon and before him Duffy, also a Bichon.  She could not understand why people owned large dogs, especially folks living in the city.  She loved live theatre, TV show Grey’s Anatomy and long telephone chats with her close friends.

She very much disliked going to the dentist.  She loved cottaging and paddle boat rides.  Though she loved to travel, deep down inside she was a homebody who always loved to get home from a trip.  She enjoyed sitting in front of a fireplace, be it wood or natural gas.  She dragged me to at least three Rod Stewart concerts and enjoyed occasional visits to the casino, where slot machines were her game of choice.  She was one of the few people who understand why I am a Leaf fan.

She was always smiling and rarely complained about her many Cancer related pains.

She loved sunsets, in particular those off the west coast of Newfoundland and in our backyard in Findlay Creek.

I could not have asked for a more loyal and devoted partner.

But of course, there is a much deeper side to Janis Annabella Ray.

You have to understand that Janis, like her father Sid, was as quiet as a mouse as a youngster, and even when we dated and were married.  I remember in 1972 being apart from her for two months when I hitchhiked out west for one of those coming of age trips young people take.  When we met in Edmonton after being apart for many weeks, I said, what’s new?  Nothing, she replied.

But boy, did she change over the years.  She would go from listener to family leader.

Janis’s role when she and Chris moved to London was, shall I say, co-pilot of the family.  She was still quite shy, she was in a home and city she knew little about, she had yet to make friends, and worse, most of her socializing was with my friends, mostly people from the newspaper business who claimed to know everything about everything, talked shop incessantly and partied too much. 

But before long we switched seats and she assumed the role of pilot.  She had become captain of the ship, or however you want to refer to it.

Janis built a circle of friends and ran a tight household.  She honed her skills as a home decorator, gardener, home renovator and top-of-the-class mom, who was an expert in running the home when I was sent out of town and often worked late.  In her spare time she canvassed door to door in our neighborhood for various charities, and if I inquired, she was always eager to identify the cheapskates on our street.

It soon became apparent that she was just what the doctor ordered for her man, who back then was a little rough around the edges.

While I loved everything about my very beautiful blue-eyed Janis in the early days, I also admired and very much appreciated the environment she was raised in.  The Jeffries were a rock solid family with a close network of aunts, uncles and cousins that exemplified what family is all about — no pretension, strong relationships, respect for each other, always there to help one another and lots of love.  Few surprises, living life the way it’s supposed to be lived.

Over the years, those same qualities seeped into our family.  They were very apparent in the months Janis battled her illness.  The evil disease would bring out the best in our family often reflecting the very positive and caring environment Janis grew up in.

While it may have appeared to some that I was the key decision maker in the family that could not be further from the truth.  Let me tell you about the huge role Janis played in three very significant changes that would shape our future.

You will recall that we accepted a job in Ottawa in 1986.  When my boss made the offer I pretty much turned him down. Me working at Parliament Hill? Leave the London home we had just finished renovating? No way! Not so fast, said Janis, let’s give it a try.  So we moved to Ottawa.  Thank your Jany!  Best move we ever made.

Three years later when we decided to stay in Ottawa, Janis’s influence was also large.

Consider this:  when in 1989 my tenure at Parliament Hill was done and we decided to quit the London Free Press and remain in Ottawa, I had no job, we had no steady income and a pretty skimpy bank balance; Janis was pregnant with Marcus; we had a house for sale in London and had purchased another home in Ottawa, so we were carrying two mortgages.  Could I make it running my own business?  Yes you can, said Janis.  You can do it.  Typical Janis.  Her vote of confidence was massive. 

So we stayed in Ottawa and life went well.

Six or seven years ago, we had a few thousand dollars in the bank as a result of an inheritance from Janis’s parents.  The opportunity arose to buy our current home, with the potential to operate it as a rental property initially, and moving in later when retirement approached.  I dilly dallied, and for many weeks both of us went back and forth on the matter:  buy it, don’t buy it, buy, it don’t buy it. You know the drill.

Then one day while we were driving down Highway 416 to our favorite inn on the St. Lawrence.  Janis looked at me and said:  let’s do it.  We signed the papers and a few years later (when the house was built) we were landlords again.  Two years ago we moved into the home.  Great house, great neighborhood, great decision Jany.  Thanks for kicking my butt.

I have always thought of myself as a bit of a risk taker.  But you know what folks?  Risk taking works best when you have a partner to share that risk with, advise you and when necessary, give you the push you need to make decisions.

I want to close by delving into what Janis’s illness has taught us and how it has affected our family.  Should a similar crisis strike anyone here today, I am hopeful some of what I have to say will be useful.

When Janis became ill and agreed to undergo chemo therapy, our strategy was to build a team around her to help her work her way through the treatments and to ease the stress and pressure on family members.  Our team included our three boys, myself and several of her and my close friends and of course, Cooper, the family pooch. It didn’t save her life but it made life easier for all of us.

There was always someone there for Janis.  There was always someone there for each family member when times were tough, either at the end of the telephone line or in person.  To all of those outside the family who were there for us – I offer a heartfelt thank you from our family.  We couldn’t have survived without you.  Janis could not have had the positive experiences she had without you.

Reflecting on the past 17 months, I have to say our family is stronger because of the experience.  We have lost our amazing wife, mother, sister and grandmother but thanks to the strength and courage Janis showed right up to the end, we are well prepared should our family run into future challenges.  I am extremely proud of my family.  At times, the evil disease set each of you back on your heels but for the most part, you remained rock solid.  You were caring, tender and encouraging when it mattered.  You made your mother smile during her many tough days.  I thank you and love you for that.

Some would say cancer won the battle and defeated our family.  I dispute that.  Janis had an amazing 59 years, she raised three great children, for years enjoyed three amazing grandchildren and helped me enjoy life to the fullest.  Cancer wounded us, and may have temporarily derailed our lives, but it did not defeat us.

And now, to conclude:

When I picked Janis up for our first date on Saturday December 18, 1969, her father said:  “Take good care of my little girl.”  Janis’s last words to me before she left us on July 10 were:  “Thanks for giving me a great life.”

I guess things worked out.  I know they did.

I say to you Janis, with a little help from Anne Murray:  “Thank you for the privilege of dancing with you for most of your life … when we were together it felt so right … thank you for being my partner every night.”

Together forever, my love.

 

 

Add new comment