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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted at 12:16 p.m., Tuesday, July 24, 2007

'Grand dame of Maui community' dies at 66

By BRIAN PERRY
The Maui News

MAKAWAO — She was the woman of many names, many talents — Liz Janes-Brown, Betty Green, Elizabeth Rosemary Janes Baker; newswoman, actress, singer, radio personality, teacher and friend.

She died Monday morning at home in Kokomo, The Maui News reported. Her husband, Paul Janes-Brown, and daughter Juliet were at her side when she lost a nine-year battle with cancer. She was 66.

"She never gave up until it took away her mind," Paul Janes-Brown said. "It couldn't get her. . . . When her mind was gone, it came and took her away from all of us."

A staff writer for The Maui News for more than 17 years, she was the newspaper's police and courts reporter in the early 1990s until she took a job as a features writer for the Currents section and Maui Scene in 1994. She wrote the "Let's Talk" column Sundays until she retired June 1.

"More so than anybody else, Liz Janes-Brown was the face of The Maui News in our community and the voice of The Maui News across the state," said David Hoff, the newspaper's editor in chief. "She became a tremendous asset to the newspaper and our readers on the day she started here in 1989, and her column is one of the most popular features this newspaper has ever published.

"With her work on radio, in the theater and for charitable causes, she was already a community treasure before we hired her. We count it a privilege to have worked alongside her at The Maui News. She was an ideal employee and a great friend. Her passing is a real loss to The Maui News ohana."

In an interview in 1986, she summed up what she enjoyed about being a newswoman, at that time in radio.

"I'm basically nosy, and I like telling people about what I learn," she said. While working at the former Maui Sun, she wrote a three-dot column called "Niele."

Before joining The Maui News in September 1989, Janes-Brown was a reporter at the Maui Sun, news director at KNUI radio and a teacher at Seabury Hall.

Maui News Scene and Currents editor Rick Chatenever said she had a "combination of journalistic excellence, compassion, an easy laugh and unflagging optimism that made her a joy to work with."

"Although readers knew her through the wit and vibrancy of her 'Let's Talk' column, she was also responsible for the nuts-and-bolts work of compiling calendars each week and the endless other menial tasks it takes to put out a daily newspaper," Chatenever said. "Over those years, she also told the stories of hundreds of Mauians and visitors to the island. As an interviewer, reviewer, reporter and feature writer, she had a unique talent for holding a mirror up to her subjects that always revealed them in the best possible light."

LEADING FIGURE IN THEATER COMMUNITY

Janes-Brown was a leading figure in the Maui theater community shortly after she arrived on Maui in 1960.

Retired longtime Baldwin High School drama teacher Sue Ann Loudon remembered meeting Janes-Brown while they were working together on "Born Yesterday." Already, Janes-Brown had a lead role in that play.

"She was a wonderful woman, a fabulous talent," Loudon said. "As a performer, she was tremendous. She knew the role backwards and forward. . . . She brought excitement to it."

In October 2003, Janes-Brown undertook a uniquely personal role, playing the lead as a cancer-stricken classics professor in Margaret Edson's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, "Wit." She had already been diagnosed with cancer six years earlier and had been through chemotherapy and a double mastectomy.

Chatenever said Janes-Brown long will be remembered by those who love theater on Maui.

"She stole hearts across the footlights for decades, from the sexy ingenue years ago to the star of 'Wit' more recently, a tour-de-force drama in which she portrayed a university English professor facing the later stages of ovarian cancer with insight, dignity and wit.

"The decision to do that play was symbolic of the way she dealt with the challenge in her own life uncomplaining, with resiliency, humor and courage," Chatenever said. "She kept battling cancer, and then it would come back, time and time again over the last decade. Her toughness through the ordeal was inspiring to all of us who were close to her but even more remarkable was the fact that she never gave in to despair.

"Through all the medical setbacks she experienced, especially over the last year and a half, she responded with miracles," he said. "She created more than her share of them, adding to all the other gifts she brought to life on Maui.

"I'll remember her that way, as the miracle woman, tough as nails but who led with her heart and touched us all with her endless supply of kindness. And her laughter."

HAD STINT IN RADIO INDUSTRY

Tom Elkins hired Janes-Brown to work at KNUI when she had been writing for the Maui Sun under the name Betty Green.

"I was able to hire Betty as a backup to our one-man news department," he said. "It was then that she changed her name to Liz Janes, much to my chagrin. I always thought name recognition was valuable. But Betty was always a free spirit, and she insisted that Betty Green was her writing name, and Liz Janes was her on-the-air name. Oddly enough, that didn't transfer when she left us to join The Maui News, where she remained Liz Janes. But she was, as I mentioned, a free spirit.

Judy Anderson also worked with Janes-Brown at KNUI in the late 1970s.

"We had a great time working there," she said, recalling that she had heard Janes-Brown speak as a panelist at a Seabury Hall Philosophy Club meeting and describe working in radio as the "best job she'd ever had."

"Live radio was very exciting back then, and we all worked hard to meet the almost hourly deadlines," Anderson recalled.

Anderson's and Janes-Brown's daughters, Ginger and Juliet, respectively, were about the same age, and the co-workers would help each other with child care.

"I fondly recall Betty bringing Juliet up to the house on the back of her motorcycle," Anderson said. "Juliet would hop off the bike, take off her helmet. I'd put it on, and Betty and I would motorcycle-pool down to work together."

A LOVE FOR MUSIC

Anderson and Janes-Brown also shared a love for music and were both altos in Maui Madrigal. The small a cappella ensemble is expected to perform John Rutter's "Requiem" at the funeral service Saturday.

Longtime theater buff Rita Whitford performed onstage alongside Janes-Brown, starting in the 1970s and into the late 1990s.

"I always thought Betty was always so elegant. She always looked so elegant no matter what she wore," Whitford said. "But she made you feel like you were the same stature as her. She was such a neat lady."

Whitford, the star of the long-running "Diamond Li'l" production at Baldwin High School, served with Janes-Brown on the Maui Community Theatre board of trustees. "We will certainly miss her."

Contacted in Los Angeles where she now lives, former Maui Academy of Performing Arts Managing Director Francie von Tempsky called Janes-Brown "a gem of a human being."

"She touched so many people. For me, I would call her the grande dame of the Maui community," von Tempsky said.

Janes-Brown performed in and directed numerous shows with the academy, dating back 20 years when it was called the Maui Youth Theater with a stage in Puunene.

"Her presence was a joy onstage," von Tempsky recalled. "I hope she is now at peace. She will be missed."

LONGTIME PARISHIONER IN KULA

Janes-Brown was also a longtime parishioner at St. John's Episcopal Church in Kula.

Parishioner John Hirashima said Janes-Brown was deeply involved in planning and performing music in the church.

"She's a woman of extremely strong faith," he said, adding that fellow church members learned from her as she struggled with her illness, "especially the tough past years."

The Rev. Heather Mueller-Fitch knew Janes-Brown for nearly three decades and became her rector at St. John's Episcopal Church in 1981.

"She never missed a Sunday," Mueller-Fitch said. In fact, Janes-Brown sang at church on the Sunday before being admitted for the last time into Maui Memorial Medical Center in late June.

"I believe that Betty is one of the most spiritually connected people I've ever known, and I know a bunch," Mueller-Fitch said. "She was a person who lived her faith. The faith was in her actions and how she treated people. . . . She was kind, loving and appropriate in it all."

Janes-Brown was active at St. John's, where she sang in the choir, chaired the church's annual fundraising festival and served as a member of the vestry, the church board.

Mueller-Fitch said she was aware that Janes-Brown extended her service at church into the community in which she lived.

"People all over the community have looked at her as an example of a Christian faith," she said.

ALWAYS STAYED POSITIVE

Liz and Paul Janes-Brown were married Nov. 25, 2000, at St. John's.

Paul Janes-Brown said he was honored she spent her last years with him.

"She never whined. She never complained," he said. "She was the most humble, generous, positive human being I've ever known."

He said that in all the time he knew her she remained positive and spoke ill of no one.

"I never heard her say a negative thing about anyone," he said. "The whole community is a lot less because she is gone."

She was born July 11, 1941, in Suffolk, England. Her father, Jumbo Janes, died overseas during World War II, and her mother, Lilian Janes, married an American, John Huttington Baker Jr., who was stationed in England with the Army Air Corps.

After the war, the Bakers moved to the United States and settled in Denver. Janes-Brown graduated from high school at 16, worked at a department store and did some fashion modeling before she married Pat Green when she was 17. He was hired to teach music at Baldwin High School, and the couple moved to Maui in 1960. They were later divorced.

A funeral will be held at 3 p.m. Saturday at St. John's. A reception will follow the service. The family requests no flowers and that people carpool to the services in view of the limited church parking.

Staff Writer Claudine San Nicolas contributed to this story.

For more Maui news, visit The Maui News.