A most unique voice travels on

by Mick Rhodes | editor@claremont-courier.com

When I took this job last July I made a shortlist of priorities. The first entry was to convince Jan Wheatcroft to return to the fold.

In an email with the subject line of “I miss you!” I described the Jan-sized hole in the Courier and urged her to consider a return. She wasn’t well, but said she was “trying to pull myself together and be productive again. I will be sending in some articles. Count on me. Thanks for your kind words. Jan.”

Hoping against hope, I waited. But it was not to be.

When I heard she had died April 23, the first thing that came to mind was, unfortunately, a cliché: she was one-of-a-kind. I say unfortunate because Jan was anything but cliché; she was unique in every way.

Unmistakable in her oversized glasses, poofy red hair, and that big smile, she had a character actor’s way about her, and would no doubt have been a household name had she chosen that route.

Though I didn’t know her well, I was lucky to have sat with her at a few Courier holiday parties, and we corresponded via email. I’d see her around town in the early mornings at Some Crust, holding court with a group of friends, all of them laughing and discussing who knows what. I wasn’t about to interrupt, but with Jan at the table, it had to be a scintillating dialogue.

Jan’s “Travel tales” columns were usually the most interesting — and always the most steamy! — stories in the Courier. Over the years she gifted us with dozens of recollections and observations from cultures around the world. A recurring theme was her appreciation for the sun, wine, and romance of the Greek islands, where she had lived for a time. These columns were revealing and full of passion. It was refreshing to hear a woman in her 70s, and later her 80s, talk about love, sex, and desire, along with art, travel, food, and nature. We just didn’t — and still don’t — get enough of that in the Courier.

The late Jan Wheatcroft

Her later work focused increasingly on aging, and how health challenges were affecting her lifelong wanderlust. It was bittersweet stuff, with the remembrances colored by melancholy. Selfishly, my reaction to her new direction was to hope she would recover and return to the road so we could all revel in her wit, style, and inimitable perspective.

Her final column, “The road most traveled,” appeared in November 2021.

Reading Jan’s stuff is like having a great conversation your most interesting friend. I encourage readers to pour a cup of coffee, or better, a glass of wine, and search up “Jan Wheatcroft” on the Courier’s homepage, claremont-courier.com.

Of course, Jan was above all else an artist. She called her work “Jan Art.” Along with her equally creative and entertaining longtime pal, Helen Fuller, she created Gypsy Sisters in 1993. The art partnership mounted twice-yearly shows in Claremont for 26 years before retiring in 2019. Many friends and admirers took to social media after her death and posted photos of treasured Jan Art pieces. It was lovely.

Studio C, at 260 W. Bonita Ave., Claremont, has “Jan’s Journey,” up through May 30. “She left behind many beautiful things and these will be displayed and sold at Studio C for the entire month of May,” read a press release. “We will have many of Jan’s items as well as many items of local Artists from her collections. Jan will be missed. Come by this month and write down a favorite memory.”

Jan’s stance on aging was defiant. Here she is talking about turning 80 in 2019:

“I’m really angsting over this 80, let me tell you. It’s a big number. I think that’s a mean number to be put on me. I don’t feel like I’m 80; I feel 12.”

In August 2021, she wrote about a health scare in a column headlined, “Life viewed from under the sheets.”

“I learned about the power of memories,” she wrote. “They came and they fed me. My past came to me and I happily welcomed it. It enriched both my body and my soul. I was alive even in my bed, I had my friends and family with me as well as being totally in the places where I had found so much joy.

“I write this to share my experience and hope it might be helpful to someone. Living is worth it. Getting stronger is hard, but I was the only one who could do it even if I didn’t want to. I still rebel when Helen says, ‘Let’s walk.’ That seems to be my nature. Getting old is difficult, however, to not be here would be much worse. I am out from under the sheets now, the grass is green, the air is very warm, and I get up every day.”

Goodbye to the spicy and brilliant Jan Wheatcroft. The world is a little less fun, interesting, and cheeky without you in it.


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