In Memoriam: Janice Dickman — 1946-2019
By David Dickman
If it had been left up to her, Janice Dickman’s greatest goal in life was to be a Mommy.
And even though she gave birth to only one child, there are at least a half dozen people walking this earth who grew up calling her “Mom.”
She was born Janice Lee Wilson on Oct. 2, 1946, in Fort Myers, Fla., and died peacefully in her sleep this past Jan. 16 in San Clemente, Calif., her home for the past 20 years.
From 1991 until mid-2012, she was the production manager and chief financial officer of Service Industry News, a job for which she never considered herself fully qualified.
Yet for those two-plus decades, she issued invoices, signed paychecks, kept the books, paid the bills, pasted up ads, dummied pages, balanced the checking account, and performed the thousand other chores that one must do to keep a fledgling trade publication afloat.
And for more than 28 years, she was my wife and best friend.
We met on the telephone in January 1984, but it was more than six months before we actually laid eyes on one another. I was working for an advertising agency, and she was a secretary/receptionist in the executive offices of our largest client. Every time I would call to speak to the vice president, I would be greeted by one of the most delightful female voices that I had ever heard.
So we carried on little conversations and discovered that we had a lot in common. We were born in the same year, so we shared the same music growing up.
We had each been married twice, and our second marriages were ending. We each had one child — she a 17-year-old son and me a 3-year-old daughter.
And we both shared a love of classical music, old movies, and good Scotch.
That June, I asked her if she would like to meet for a drink. She asked me to send her a photo.
Well, it turns out that I had recently acted as a model for an ad that our agency produced, so I sent her a full page from the Los Angeles Times. I was wearing a designer suit, and an artist had airbrushed the photo so I had no bags under my eyes, every hair was in place, and my chubby chin had been slimmed down a bit.
She agreed to meet me.
Over the next several months, our romance blossomed. I left the ad agency and went to work as editor of Pool & Spa News, where I was working when I was served divorce papers.
In 1985, I moved in with Janice, her 60-year-old mother, Varina, and her son, Christopher. The following year, Chris went off to college, and I left Pool & Spa News and began laying the groundwork for Service Industry News, which began publication in January 1987.
Originally, Janice was supposed to be part of Service Industry News from the start, but she could not afford to go without a paycheck while the publication was getting off the ground.
So for the next four years, she worked a number of jobs and fed and housed me while I labored to grow the newspaper. For a time, she worked at a travel agency and then was hired by Admiral Cruises, a small cruise line that was acquired by Royal Caribbean while she was in their employ. They offered her a job at their Miami corporate offices, but she turned it down to remain in California with her mother and me. We did, however, get the chance to take several cruises together and discovered that we also shared a love of the ocean.
We also took the first of what would turn out to be seven trips to Hawaii, which she often said was her favorite place on earth.
I first proposed to her in 1988, but she turned me down. As veterans of two failed marriages each, Janice wanted to be darn sure that this one would last.
I continued to propose once or twice a year for the next two years until she finally agreed to marry me. We drove to Las Vegas with an entourage of a couple dozen friends and family members and were married on May 27, 1990.
From contacts that she had made while accompanying me to trade shows and other industry events, she landed a job with Carecraft, a swimming pool buying group, for which she worked until she joined me at Service Industry News in 1991. By that time, I had become the sole owner, and over the next 20-plus years, we worked together as it grew into a successful industry publication.
People who knew Janice will tell you that she was a pretty, warm, outgoing person who always greeted you with a smile, a kind word, a hug, or a combination of all three. She naturally attracted people to her, made friends easily, and she was always glad to share herself with others.
In August 2012, tragedy struck. Janice fell and cracked three ribs. And then she developed pneumonia and suffered a seizure while hospitalized. And for the next six months, she was confined to a long-term acute care hospital, where she fought a life-and-death battle against organ failure as her lungs, heart, liver and kidneys became affected by disease.
But she recovered. As sick as she had been, she beat the odds. And you could tell from the reaction of the doctors, nurses, therapists and technicians at the hospital that she had done something special. She was released in February 2013 to a rehabilitation center, and two months later, she returned home.
The disease had taken its toll. Her lungs were compromised, so a simple cold could easily develop into a life-threatening condition. Her circulation was poor, so she had problems walking, and she had end-stage kidney disease.
I realized that I could not continue to run the newspaper and at the same time provide Janice with the care that she would need. So I retired from Service Industry News and placed the paper in the capable hands of its current publisher, Carolyn Dibrell.
Janice started on dialysis in June 2013 and by February of the following year was well enough that we could travel to Australia and Singapore for a month-long vacation. In late 2014, we began training to perform dialysis at home.
Despite the health challenges that we faced, I believe that our last four years together were our happiest.
We developed a routine in those last years that served us well. I would dialyze her on Monday and Tuesday, then we would take off Wednesday and more often than not spend the evening at Disneyland.
She loved Disney. Our annual passes to the park renewed each year on our wedding anniversary, and we would stay at one of the resort hotels each year to celebrate our life together and purchase a piece of Disney artwork to commemorate the occasion. Our livingroom walls are covered with Disney cels that we had collected over the years.
We would dialyze again on Thursday and Friday, and our weekends would be free to visit with friends and family or to take an out-of-town trip.
Christmas was Janice’s favorite holiday, and she would always look forward to having her “kids” come around to visit, to open presents and share a meal.
New Year’s brought with it its own tradition, where we would sit down to a Southern-style meal of ham, black-eyed peas and corn bread to insure good luck in the coming 12 months.
But for three of the last four years, illness cast a pall over our holiday celebration.
Janice twice developed a winter cold, which attacked her weakened lungs and forced her to be hospitalized during the holidays.
Then in 2017, it was her mother who became ill as Christmas approached. She was placed in hospice care and died last June at the age of 92.
But this past Christmas, we nailed it! It was our happiest one in years. We got the cards out early; the lights were hung; the tree was up and decorated; the gifts were purchased and wrapped; and our home was filled with joy as visitors traveled to be with us all the way through New Year’s Day.
The winter cold waited until a week after January 1 before it struck.
We were supposed to spend the day at Disneyland with visiting family members on Jan. 9, but we were both too ill to travel. I recovered after a few days, but Janice’s cold lingered.
On Monday, Jan. 14, she made a doctor’s appointment for the following day but had me cancel it Tuesday morning because she was feeling better.
“If I’m feeling bad, you can just drive me to the hospital,” she told me, “but right now, I'm fine.”
All throughout the day, I kept checking on her, and each time, she told me that she was feeling better.
We had lunch, and I dialyzed her in the afternoon. “I’m fine,” she again insisted after we were through. So we had dinner and watched television into the evening.
I put her to bed around 9:30 p.m. and wished her good night and sweet dreams and told her I loved her. “I love you, too,” she said.
When I came to bed a few hours later, she was sleeping comfortably and breathing supplementary oxygen from a machine at her bedside.
When I awoke the next morning, she was gone.
Her wishes were simple:
“I want you to throw a party,” she said. “And then I want you to fly to Hawaii with my ashes and scatter them in a volcano.”
The party is planned for Saturday, Feb. 16, in San Clemente. I’ll fly to Hawaii sometime in the coming months to fulfill her last wish.