For the 32 years I knew her, Janet always put people first—her never-ending and bottomless quest to know them and her penchant for asking questions about them. I came to understand that this was an integral part of all her projects, regardless of what product or program was being created, delivered, or run. She cared, first and foremost, without even thinking about the time and energy that these personal entreaties engendered. Janet brought to life my favorite question: she illuminated it and radiated in the responses she received from asking, “Is there more?” And there was always more: more of Janet’s curiosity, more of her willingness to engage in almost any topic, issue, or question, and, most and best of all, her engaged presence.
Janet was one of my friends “out there” in our wide, wild world who was passionate about all things relational, especially friendship. She was one of my guiding peers and colleagues from afar who really wanted to see my book on Friendship published – and it was, precisely a year ago. We had several long phone chats about the relationship between my research on friendship and its relationship with the intercultural field we both shared with such joy. Thank you, dear Janet, for being along for the journey during Covid that helped me to birth this book.
Something else I’ve always appreciated about Janet is a character trait that one rarely sees in people who have reached the apogee of their professional field as she had: humility. Beyond her incredible body of work, she was a fabulous cheerleader, mentor, guide, and “encouragist.” She was so devoted to the work of expanding and refining the world of the interculturalist that it didn’t need to be all about her. With her characteristic energy, wit, and fearlessness, she tutored and schooled so many others, no matter their level and degree of professional experience. I know that, with me, she created opportunities through WIIC, SIIC, SIETAR, China, and elsewhere that enabled professional opportunities to “stretch without stress” and challenge myself to go above and beyond my skills set and knowledge base and trust myself to give my all—whether I was doing something for the first or fiftieth time. Janet drew people out that way and the world is better for it.
I loved working alongside Janet, in so many venues around the world. No matter the time of day, day of the week, or milieu, I inevitably found her mind to be alive, her feedback and insights to be both witty and profound, and her ability to blow up “the box” and come up with something all-new. Even with all that, she took the time to listen to my thoughts and questions first—even at times when I didn’t want to initiate. She had a unique aptitude toward synergizing, energizing, and harmonizing highly differentiated ideas in a way few could. Janet led by listening, learning, and positioning herself as a servant-leader to the intercultural world-writ-large.
As a Governing Council Member of SIETAR International in the mid-90s, Janet found me at a SimGames Night I was facilitating one year and literally “told” me to show up at SIIC the next summer as the Evening Program Coordinator. Saying no seemed unthinkable, as SIIC was a professional and veritable paradise. I joined in that summer and returned to that role for three summers following. Who knew that fifteen years later I would return as a SIIC/WIIC faculty member? One thing led to another, and it wasn’t hard to go all in with these experiences. They, like Janet, always seemed to bring out the best in me—as she appeared able to do with countless others everywhere.
While the world is lesser for our loss, we are all the better for having had Janet Bennett impacting and influencing our journeys. Her presence will be felt by generations to come; in the present, it is we who were most fortunate to have had her in our time.