I first met Jane in 2007 at a Science Times meeting as she sat at a conference table with her fellow reporters, cooking up a storm. (Jane’s knitting through the meetings is part of her caption to the newspaper.) She would stop on occasion to give him two cents on a health story idea. Years later, when Jane moved into the Well office, I convinced her to write about her passion for knitting. The column was a blockbuster.
Jane has always been ahead of her time. Long before the Great Resignation, Jane wrote about the opportunity to reinvent herself, sharing her own goals to travel, learn Spanish, and attend more concerts and conferences. In her 60s, she took her four grandsons on a wilderness cruise in Alaska and a tent safari in Tanzania, which she also wrote about. She adopted a Havanese puppy, Max, and shared the story of how she turned him into a therapy dog. She is still looking for a teacher to help her learn to play the bandoneon, an accordion-like instrument popular in Argentina.
I think Jane’s greatest strength, however, has been serving as a comforting voice during times of uncertainty. She tackled a taboo subject in her book “Jane Brody’s Guide to the Great Beyond”, an introduction to help families prepare for the end of life. Just a year later, Jane put her precepts into practice when her husband, Richard Engquist, was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. She was always thinking of her readers, sharing her personal story of living with the diagnosis. fatal of her husband; then, after his death, she wrote of her anguish in “The pain of losing a spouse is singular”.
At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, Jane wrote about how she coped during her life in lockdown. Jane penned one of the most popular columns of her career at the age of 80, when she shared her thoughts on how to age gracefully. I was thrilled that she agreed to host a lively conversation with Dr. Anthony S. Fauci about living to 80 and beyond. To mark her 80th birthday, she shared this advice:
Strive to do what you love for as long as you can. If the vicissitudes of life or the infirmities of age prevent a favorite activity, modify it or substitute another. I can no longer safely skate, ski or play tennis, but I can still bike, hike and swim. I consider daily physical activity to be as important as eating and sleeping. I accept no excuses.
Although Jane accepts no excuses for herself, she is quite compassionate about other people’s health issues, including my own weight loss struggles. “People come in all shapes and sizes,” Jane told me. “We’re not all meant to look like models or ballet dancers, nor should we want to.”
That said, being around Jane tends to bring out the best in people. I remember waiting for an elevator with guests at a Times event a few years ago, when suddenly we heard Jane’s voice coming from down the hall.
“Jane is coming! someone said. It was immediately clear that neither of us wanted Jane to see us take the elevator, so we all sprinted for the stairwell just as she walked around the corner. Jane, of course, headed straight for the stairs, and we all dutifully followed her.
And that’s the power and the joy of Jane Brody. For over five decades, Jane’s wisdom, wit, and writing have uplifted us, motivated us to try harder, and pushed us to be a little better than before.