Janet Anderson Maxwell

Obituary of Janet Patricia Anderson Maxwell

Janet Patricia Anderson Maxwell of Squirrel Hill, age 85, died on Sunday, November 29 from complications associated with Covid 19. She was born in Uniontown, Pa. on May 4, 1935 to Clyde L. Anderson and Beryl Uphold Anderson. She was preceded in death by her parents, and by her brothers, Thomas, Lloyd, and Robert. She was married to Robert R. Maxwell, who died on September 1, 1964 from cancer. She is survived by her two children, The Reverend Susan M. (Mitchell) Rothenberg of Pittsburgh, and Robert R. (Renee) Maxwell, II of Herndon, Virginia. She will be remembered as a fiercely devoted grandmother to Rachel A. Rothenberg of Seattle, Washington, Allison M. Maxwell and Erin R. Maxwell of Herndon, Virginia, and David M. Rothenberg of Pittsburgh. She is also survived by her sister-in-law, Judy Anderson of Uniontown, Pa., as well as an assortment of nieces, nephews, cousins and friends, all of whom she loved dearly. Jan grew up in Uniontown and New Salem, Pa., with her three younger brothers, and a big extended family including her beloved Aunt Ruth who never had children of her own, but provided love and guidance to all of the children in Jan’s family. Jan, however, as the only girl in the family, was most definitely the apple of her father’s eye, and the two were close for years, right up until Clyde’s death in 1973. She graduated from Uniontown Area Senior High School in 1953, and attended Ohio University for two years before heading to Harrisburg, PA. to pursue a career in advertising. Her first boss, Bob Maxwell, would become her husband, and the two married in 1957 in Harrisburg. They later lived in Milwaukee, WI where their daughter was born in September, 1961, and in State College, Pa. where Bob taught marketing at Penn State University. Jan often described their brief marriage, lit by the sunny days of John F. Kennedy’s presidency, as something like the musical, “Camelot,” and lyrics from its title song: “Don't let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment, that was known as Camelot.” In 1964, Bob was diagnosed with malignant melanoma, and died just one month before their son was born in October, 1964. After Bob’s death, Jan and her two young children returned to Uniontown, following her husband’s wish that their children grow up surrounded by Jan’s large extended family. Jan bought a little house on Montview Street, located within easy walking distance of her parent’s home and an excellent elementary school for Susan and Bobby. As her children grew up, Jan became deeply involved in their school activities and took on leadership roles there as well as in their scouting and church activities. The little family were very active members of Trinity United Presbyterian Church where Jan served both as a ruling elder and trustee for multiple terms over nearly four decades. During this time, Jan also cared for her elderly Aunt Ruth in the dining room of their home. Aunt Ruth was limited to a wheelchair and required Jan's constant care and assistance until her passing. Jan did this without hesitation, and it allowed her children to experience the love and caring that Ruth was able to provide to so many people over her long life. As a result of her involvement in her children’s school, Jan served on a committee working to facilitate the desegregation of Uniontown Area public schools. In 1975, she was appointed to fill a vacancy on the Uniontown Area School Board, and continued to serve for nearly two decades as one of the first women to serve on a school board in Western Pa. In 1982, she was elected president of the board, becoming the first woman to serve in that capacity in Fayette County. During her tenure, she became known as a fierce advocate for teachers and students, often butting heads against entrenched systems and prejudices that plagued small Western Pa. towns that were undergoing significant financial and societal stress during the 1970’s and 1980’s. Her last employment was as the executive director of the Women’s Resource Center in Uniontown, an organization primarily focused on serving victims of rape and other forms of sexual assault and domestic abuse. This was not a job that Jan sought, but rather a position to which she was truly called, and made good use of her extraordinary gifts for writing, fund-raising, public relations, and organization. Jan also served as a volunteer and board member for Uniontown Service League for many years, and as a volunteer at Uniontown Hospital. In her later years, Jan cared for her aging mother until Beryl’s death in 1996. After her mother passed, Jan spent her time as the most extraordinary grandmother to her four grandchildren. She spent most of her time on the floor playing with them--building Lego towns, making Play-Doh castles, setting up Barbie fashion shows and playing all the board games that Jan loved. Her grandkids knew that “Da Grandma” would never ever get tired of reading to them, even the same book over and over again. She was always present on family vacations at Disney and the beach. One of Jan’s favorite television programs was “Jeopardy,” and she got her eldest granddaughter, Rachel, hooked on the trivia show at an early age. Imagine her joy when Rachel competed in and won the Jeopardy Teen Tournament in 2009! Jan loved classical music and books, and her children count themselves fortunate to have grown up in a home filled with music, and wide-ranging conversations around the dinner table that often went on for hours. Jan was also a devoted Pittsburgh baseball, hockey and football fan. She loved black coffee, cigarettes (until she kicked the habit for the sake of her grandchildren), and whistled her way through every day, a habit almost as annoying as her smoking, yet very endearing. A series of health challenges prompted Jan’s move to Pittsburgh in 2006 to be closer to her daughter’s family. In Pittsburgh, she became a member of Sixth Presbyterian Church in Squirrel Hill, where she served as a volunteer coordinator for Global Links, and volunteered at the church in various capacities. Among Susan and Mitchell’s friends, she became known as “Grandma Jan,” and was a constant presence at dinners and other celebrations, including “Festivus” parties at the Rothenberg home. All her life, Jan was deeply interested and engaged in issues of social justice. She believed that the young people of Fayette County deserved a world class public school education despite the economic challenges faced by their families and their community. She taught her children the importance of civic engagement and caring courageously. Her life was marked by her propensity to somehow always land in the middle of what the late John Lewis called, “good trouble,” which for a long time bewildered her kids who wondered why she always seemed to be involved in some controversy that required her to spend hours talking on the phone and going to boring meetings. The truth is that Jan had ample opportunity to give up and surrender to the very bad hand life often dealt her. She was almost always broke. Her clothes were worn out. Nothing about her life was easy, although her children tried to ease her financial and health burdens. Despite everything, she chose to make a difference in the lives of others. She chose to make things better for everyone she encountered. She chose to show up for family, friends, and total strangers. Most of all, Jan is an example of how anyone can make a difference, no matter how small the town or how steep the odds. Her deep commitment to the Way of Jesus, taught to her by the example of generations of faithful women in her family who also faced struggles and disappointments, demanded nothing less than her passion and commitment. Every morning while they lived at home, her children woke up to the sound of their mother whistling “By Myself,” sung by Fred Astaire in the 1953 movie “Band Wagon.” In a way, the song reflects the core truth of Jan’s, especially the years after Bob died. Fiercely independent to the very end, she built a good life of her own but there was always an underlying sadness to her story. The saddest part about her death is that Jan ended up dying alone, not because she wasn’t deeply loved by many, many people, but due to Covid-19 restrictions preventing Susan and Bobby from being with her at the end. The Fred Astaire song goes like this: “I'll go my way by myself Like walking under the clouds I'll go my way by myself All alone in a crowd I'll try to apply myself And teach my heart how to sing I'll go my way by myself Like a bird on the wing I'll face the unknown I'll build a world of my own; No one knows better than I, myself I'm by myself Alone” Jan’s memorial service and internment will be held at a later date, and it will include lots of great music and probably some Presbyterian Punch. Until this godawful pandemic is over, if you want to honor Jan, the family asks that you wear a mask, practice social distancing, stay at home as much as possible, and do everything in your power to care deeply for the well-being of your neighbor. Memorial donations in Jan’s honor may be made to Sixth Presbyterian Church in Squirrel Hill, or to Democratic candidates for public office and other liberal organizations through Act Blue. The family is deeply grateful to the staff at Community Life in Homestead, especially Jan’s faithful caregivers, Jeff Szramowski, Happiness Nyirenda, and Marva Jones. We are especially thankful to Brenda Flores, who was a friend and caregiver to Jan for many years when Susan was out of town, and a constant presence with Jan for the past year as Covid-19 limited Jan’s ability to leave her apartment.