March 24, 2003

Life without Janet

Like everyone who knew her, I was shocked and saddened to hear of Janet Kelly’s passing this morning. Janet was that rarest of public figures in Venezuela – truly democratically-minded, fiercely intellectually honest, allergic to extremism, willing to take uncomfortable positions on principle, and gleefully irreverent. Both sides in the political conflict mistrusted her, because she refused to mortgage her brain - or her principles - to either of them. In this, she was truly extraordinary, and in much more than this.

American-born, Janet had lived here since finishing college in the 70s, and became that most endearing of characters: the thoroughly venezuelanized gringa. Though she could never shed her stereotypical American accent, you only had to spend 10 minutes with her to see that Venezuelanity had seeped into her blood. Janet had options, but she chose to make Venezuela her country, and how can you not love that?

At the same time, Janet was such a wonderfully warm, kind person. Weird as hell, too, sure, but truly other-oriented. Looking back now it’s hard not to think that what we’d seen as quirkiness could have been the outward signs of the disease that ultimately claimed her life, depression. It’s too sad to think about, really, that someone like Janet could have taken her own life. Just terrible.

It’s not just a blow to the country, and to English-language publishing in this town, it’s also a terrible loss for this blog. Janet was my favorite reader – always eager to respond with humor, insight, and real appreciation, critical appreciation, which is the best kind. Re-reading her emails now is wrenching – all of that good will that I only reciprocated with a quick “thanks for writing in,” instead of taking the time to really express how much it meant to me that someone of her stature was taking the time to read, examine and comment on my crappy little web-site.

It’s such a sad day. This country needs more, many more Janet Kellys…instead we’ve lost the only one we had.