Janice Ayres left ’em laughing and near tears on Friday, a day that others spent celebrating her life and paying tribute to her commitments in private and public life.
The Carson City social services activist, who died at 92 on Memorial Day, was venerated at First Presbyterian Church for her work helping people; a four-year term on the Board of Supervisors; and many more years as executive director of Nevada Rural Counties RSVP, also known as the Retired and Seniors Volunteer Program.
Among those eulogizing her with pathos and humor was former Mayor Marv Teixeira, who opened his remarks by saying he was “deeply saddened” upon hearing of Ayres’ death. But much of what he said was humorous before he concluded, “Janice, rest easy; you left Carson City better than you found it.”
In between he served up anecdotes including one about occasionally opposing Ayres on an issue, despite sitting next to her when supervisors met, and getting a pointed message immediately after voting against her wishes.
“She would turn towards me and give me that look,” he said, “and kick me right in the shins.”
The former mayor said that at age 78, he is falling apart, but when Ayres was his current age, she was reaching her prime. He also said repeatedly that when someone took her on in a political/government battle, “And the winner was, you guessed it — Janice Ayres.”
A letter expressing condolences from U.S. Sen. Harry Reid was read because he wasn’t able to attend.
“Janice was a woman who made a positive impression on everyone she met,” Reid wrote. He also said her “legacy of good works will never be far from our hearts.”
Supervisor Karen Abowd spoke on behalf of the current Board of Supervisors, filling in for Mayor Robert Crowell, who just had knee-replacement surgery. She also spoke as a longtime friend and associate.
“Janice was a good friend and a wonderful person,” she said. “Janice cared about everyone.” Abowd said she felt it was fitting Ayres passed on Memorial Day; “she should never be forgotten.”
Tim LuMaye, Ayres’ grandson, joined in the chorus of kudos to his grandmother for her good works and added words about how much she did for him and others in their family.
“She did so much for so many,” he said. “She gave me a foundation of values. One of the simplest things she taught me was just good, old-fashioned hard work.”
Bob Hadfield, former Nevada Association of Counties executive director, called Ayres an incredible human being whose love extended even to those who didn’t agree with her.
He said there aren’t many people like her — someone who can stand with folks and yet tower above people.
“She wasn’t just an advocate for the elderly,” he said. “She was an advocate for everybody. She was a gentle giant. She had principle beyond reproach.”
Rev. Bruce Kochsmeier, senior pastor, officiated at the service and quoted Proverbs 31 as his way of capturing her essence: “She opens her hands to the poor.”
Janice R. Ayres, born in Idaho on Jan. 23, 1921, earned dual master’s degrees in business administration and mass communications from the University of Southern California. She was one of Walt Disney’s original employees and helped open Disneyland. After years as a successful businesswoman, she entered social services work.
She was the executive director of the RSVP effort that bears her stamp from 1979 until her death, widening its scope from five to 15 Nevada counties.
She not only served a term on the Board of Supervisors, but gave of her time on various other boards and committees. She won recognition and awards from a host of admirers in government and various organizations throughout her career.
During the service, large screens with photographs from Ayres’ life in private and public situations flashed overhead at the front and back of the church.
Included were shots of her, sometimes wearing her signature large and dark-framed glasses; a couple showed her with libations in hand; a couple of others showed her holding babies.
Some shots showed her love affair with the V&T Railway, many were with family, friends or associates, but almost all were graced with her trademark smile for the camera and posterity.
Among those attending Friday’s service were members of political, government or social services organizations, along with family members; all were invited afterward to a reception at Adele’s Restaurant and Lounge, which is owned and operated by Charlie and Karen Abowd.