Janie Clayton, beloved friend and colleague, passed away last week. On Wednesday evening, May 13th, her family and friends, including the staff of Drayton Hall, gathered here for her memorial service along the banks of the Ashley River. As her daughter, Natalie Bell, who had also worked at Drayton Hall, said, “Drayton Hall was in her soul.”
Since our President and Executive Director Dr. George W. McDaniel was out of town speaking at the annual meeting of the Historic Mobile Preservation Society, he prepared these remarks, which were read aloud by a member of the senior staff. Afterwards, family, friends, and colleagues stepped forward to remember Janie in their own words.
Greetings to all of you, who are Janie’s family and friends and who are gathered this evening in honor of her wonderful life. I wish I could be there with you, but please know that I am there with you in spirit. Since I could not be with you in person, I would like to take an opportunity to share with you a few of my thoughts about Janie. I say “a few” thoughts, because there are many thoughts, and they are good ones because Janie was a good person. All of you who were friends of hers know that, and all of you who worked with her know that too — and many people who are not here, but who visited Drayton Hall and were greeted by her warm smile, surely know that too.
Janie had a welcoming smile, a twinkle in her eye, and a warm heart. When visitors arrived in our museum shop for the first time, she made them feel at home. She had an artistic flair, which so many of us appreciated, for she could turn something seemingly ordinary into something distinctive and always tasteful. There was a simplicity to it that made the change almost magical.
Janie was devoted to Drayton Hall and was one of that wonderful and early set of devotees to this site, who established the attributes we still love today: the integrity of the place; the warmth of its staff; the excellence of its tours and educational programs for people of all ages; and, quite simply, the fun of working here. Bob Barker was among that early set, as was Nancy Ryan Huggins, John Kidder, Meggett Lavin, and many others.
Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Robert Penn Warren, in describing our quest for significance, wrote that “it is basic to our human nature that each person strive for significance, to make his or her life count for something.” Janie found her significance in giving to people — in the giving of her talents, of her artistic skills, of her warm heart and winning smile, her twinkle in her eye. She made you feel better. All of that is a significant gift — and as a result, we are better, whether we be her friends, her fellow staff members, or her family. And so we mark this day with deep sadness at the loss of Janie, and at the same time, we give thanks for Janie, and for her having given us, a well lived life.
George W. McDaniel