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SRJC mourns loss of inspirng speech instructor

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SRJC mourns loss of Janis Wright, communications instructor.

SRJC mourns loss of Janis Wright, communications instructor.

SRJC mourns loss of Janis Wright, communications instructor.

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The Santa Rosa Junior College community is mourning the loss of cherished communications instructor Janis Wright, who leaves behind a 27-year legacy of teaching public speaking at the college. After a two-month illness, Wright died at the hospital early Sunday morning. She was 55.

A self-proclaimed lover of the ocean and redwoods and as someone with a strong dislike for pretension, Wright worked hard to put herself through Humboldt State University. She went on to earn a double masters in communication and adaptation of literature at the University of Texas in Austin.

Wright’s life is a testament to her genuine love of her family, her students and community service.

According to Steve Motley, Wright’s husband, her job meant the world to her. “She adored and loved every student she had,” he said. “She loved helping the students give speeches. She loved being a teacher, and she loved teaching at the JC.”

Jennifer O’Mahoney, communications studies admin assistant, recalls Wright bringing her flowers in her first days of work at SRJC. “We had chatted about growing and gardens, and one day she arrived with a bunch of exotically colored lilies. She regularly brought beauty to my desk,” O’Mahony said.

Former Forensics chair Mark Nelson said Wright often volunteered her time to work with the forensics team as former successful collegiate debater herself. “She loved interpretation and took great delight in sharing her passion with others,” Nelson said. “I always found Janis to be dedicated to her craft and her students.”

Laura Ainsworth was a SRJC forensics team member when she first met Wright and recalled an evening when Wright invited her and her duo partner to her apartment. “She knew we did not have a lot of resources, and even though she didn’t have much either, she literally made dinner for us and provided me with a dress for nationals,” Ainsworth said. “She offered more than speech advice, providing an example of how to build your life and touch the lives of others.”

Ainsworth recently returned to SRJC as an instructor  and reunited with Wright who was married with a teenage daughter. “Although she still had the same care for students, it was so evident that her daughter was her light,” she said. “She literally beamed when she spoke of her. I always looked forward to hearing her laugh about the conversations they had, and I will miss seeing the sparkle that I believe all of us thought – and hoped – would never dim.”

Former Forensics chair Mark Nelson said Wright often volunteered her time to work with the forensics team. “She loved interpretation and took great delight in sharing her passion with others,” Nelson said. “I always found Janis to be dedicated to her craft and her students.”

Instructor Julia McDermott Swanson remembered Wright as a constant presence in the Communication Studies Department. “She cared about her students and her colleagues; she was always ready to listen and to share,” she said. “She took real joy in life and had an enthusiasm for many aspects of communication and performance. Her family meant the world to her, and their happiness was essential to her own.”

Wright was an accomplished writer, director and actor. For the past few years free of charge she wrote, directed, acted and produced scenes for the Lamplight Cemetery Tour, which raises money to preserve the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery. She also mentored teens through Social Advocates for Youth (SAY), participated in Earth Day beach clean-ups and volunteered in her daughter’s schools.

“I think she’s a person who recognized that if you want to make the world a better place, if you want to improve the community in which you live, it’s not a matter of conversation. It’s a matter of commitment,” said Instructor Ken Beyries, who knew Wright for 30 years and attended her 1999 wedding to Steve. “You have to go out and do it. And sometimes you’re the star and sometimes you’re the stage hand. But your contribution is what’s important.”

Wright believed instructors have an obligation that their students should laugh as well as learn. “If we’re only going to have them for one semester, we have to take that opportunity and attempt to instill in them the joy of learning,” Beyries said.

A memorial service for Wright is planned for 1 p.m. Nov. 2 at Faith Lutheran Church, 4930 Newanga Ave. Santa Rosa. Friends and family are welcome.

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