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Janyce Webster, helped global law firm thrive, dead at 58

Janyce Webster had a few things you could count on her to say: “Is there anything I can do?” and “What do you need me to bring?”

But a week before she died, she told her 18-year-old son, Evan, something else — something he treasures.

“I’ll watch over you,” she said. “You’re going to be OK.”

Mrs. Webster died of lung cancer Friday at Little Company of Mary Hospital. She was 58.

Her greatest joy was becoming a mom at 40.

“Every day with her was good,” said her son, a senior at Brother Rice High School. As she drove him to his basketball games, good conversations unreeled — as well as the occasional giddy, radio-stoked dance-off. Even seat-belted in her Jeep, “We would have dance battles in the car.”

An administrative assistant at Jenner & Block whose 30-year career stretched back to a time when she was called a legal secretary, Mrs. Webster was efficient, organized and generous.

Janyce Webster worked as an assistant to lawyers at Jenner & Block. | Family photo
Janyce Webster worked as an assistant to lawyers at Jenner & Block. | Family photo

“She was a person who would greet you in the elevator first thing in the morning with a smile on her face,” said Anton R. Valukas, a former U.S. attorney and chair of the firm. And in the evening, “She would be upbeat and positive, always there to laugh at the bad jokes you made.”

“She was part of the glue that held the firm together,” Valukas said.

Born Janyce Calvin, she grew up near 81st and Honore in Gresham, the daughter of John, a professional saxophone player, and Millernese, a postal worker. She attended Harper High School. A quiet churchgoer, “She was what we would call a good girl,” said her sister-in-law, Giovonna Lewis. But “Janet affected more people with her quietness than most people with their loud voices.”

“We worked together 25, 26 years. We never had a bad day,” said Charles B. Sklarsky, a partner at Jenner & Block. Amid high-pressure global litigation, “She always had a smile on her face. She was always even keel, no matter how difficult the job ahead. She always got it done.”

Janyce met Paul Webster at a gig by his deejay cousin. He was entranced. “Big brown eyes and that Pepsodent smile,” he said. “I was hooked ever since.” They married in Las Vegas.

Janyce and Paul Webster on their wedding day / family photo
Janyce and Paul Webster on their wedding day / family photo

When Evan was small, Paul Webster sometimes worked 16-hour shifts at his job as an ironworker. He never worried about his family, thanks to “baby sitters” who were more like bodyguards: his two Rottweilers, Cromwell and Hannibal, weighing in at a combined 265 pounds.

“Cromwell and Hannibal baby-sat Janyce and Evan when I went to work,” he said. They were calm and affectionate. “I would hook a sled to them and they would pull Evan around the park.”

But, “People wouldn’t walk past the house,” he said. “They would literally walk across the street. They knew I had ‘the boys.’ ”

The Rottweilers each lived to be about 15. After they died, Evan and his father arranged for Mrs. Webster to get a new dog, downsized but just as cherished: Lexie, a Shih Tzu-poodle mix.

“Lexie knows something is wrong,” Paul Webster said. “That bedroom is empty now, and she still goes in and lays down a minute.”

Mrs. Webster put together tasty meals. “Her mother was from Louisiana, and those people cook,” her husband said. Her specialty was “smothered pork chops and gravy and rice or potatoes,” he said. “Biscuits on Sunday.”

She loved lasagna and strawberry Haagen-Dazs ice cream. “That was her treat,” her husband said.

She could have watched quality mob films every day. “ ‘The Godfather,’ ‘Goodfellas,’ ‘Casino,’ ” Paul Webster said.

And she enjoyed powerful singing by Whitney Houston and Anita Baker.

Janyce and Evan Webster | Family photo
Janyce and Evan Webster | Family photo

When Mrs. Webster became sick, “That chemo was no joke,” said her sister-in-law. As the hair fell from her head, “She just started wearing it bald. She said, ‘The heck with it.’ ”

She had frank talks with her son about her diagnosis. “Evan was always aware of his mother’s situation, and that young man has been my rock throughout,” Paul Webster said. When she grew weak, “I actually watched him put his mother in the shower and bathe her.”

Despite illness, she remained organized. “Janyce paid her bills all the way up to December,” her sister-in-law said.

As relatives arranged her funeral, they found folders Mrs. Webster had prepared and labeled: “Burial Plots.” “Insurance Policies.” “Birth certificate. Social Security Number. Passwords.” She made their planning a little easier.

Mrs. Webster is also survived by a brother, John. Her visitation is from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. Friday at Evans Funeral Home, 6453 S. Ashland. A wake is planned from 9 a.m. Saturday until the start of her 10 a.m. funeral service at Alpha Temple Baptist Church, 6701 S. Emerald.