Janne Marie Harrelson, a 32-year employee of Gallaudet University and its affiliated schools, died on August 23 in hospice care in Rockville, Maryland. She was 70 years old. The cause of death was ovarian cancer.

Janne was born in Fort Slocum, New York, to Nancy Bowling Harrelson and U.S. Navy Captain George David Harrelson. She was the oldest of five children. Being a member of a Navy family meant that growing up, Janne rarely lived in one location for more than two years. Long Beach, California; Japan; Hawaii; Key West, Florida; Kernersville, North Carolina; New Orleans, Louisiana.; various cities in Virginia; and Pensacola, Florida., were all considered “home” at various times in Janne’s life. She often shared that she attended five elementary schools in one school year!

Following in her father’s footsteps, Janne attended the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology. She also earned a master’s degree in higher education administration/student personnel administration from Florida State University in Tallahassee.

After beginning her work life at Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri, Janne moved in 1978 to the Washington, D.C., area and began what became a 32-year career at Gallaudet University and its affiliated Model Secondary School for the Deaf and Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center. Although she did not know American Sign Language when she was first hired, Janne quickly became highly knowledgeable in not only the language but also in deaf culture and deaf education. She retired from Gallaudet in 2010, after serving in multiple leadership roles, the final ones being director of National Mission Planning and director of the nationwide network of Gallaudet University Regional Centers.

Throughout her tenure at Gallaudet, Janne was well-respected as a strong advocate for ASL and Deaf people.

In her personal life, Janne enjoyed making scrapbooks and creating pillows in needlepoint. She also watched every single episode of “General Hospital,” beginning in 1963. An accomplished singer with a soaring soprano voice, she was part of multiple ensembles, including Sing Out Key West!, the Carolina Choir at UNC Chapel Hill, the DC Area Feminist Chorus, Brock and the Rockets a cappella group, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Silver Spring choir, and Not What You Think a cappella group. She was known for her encyclopedic knowledge of song lyrics from popular, Broadway, and the classical vocal repertoire.

Woman wearing black glasses, short blonde hair, navy blue top with light purple polka dots and dark colored scarf, looking at camera, smiling with trees in background.

An active volunteer with the Capital-area team of the American Field Service (AFS) Intercultural Exchange, Janne developed programming and training materials and workshops, and was a personal support liaison to many high school students from around the world. She expanded AFS’s reach to welcome international deaf students to local school communities, which positively affected the lives of many young people. In 2010, Janne and her wife Deb and daughter Lucy hosted a German exchange student, Johanna, and that connection became lifelong.

Janne was also an active leader and volunteer with the Unitarian Universalist Church of Silver Spring, Maryland, during the 26 years of their family’s participation. She served in many capacities, including secretary of the church board, the ministerial search committee, and as a leader of several community-building curriculums. Janne and Deb had deep roots in their former Silver Spring neighborhood, and beginning in 2021, in their new community in Rockville.

Janne met her wife Deborah Weiner in 1978 through the D.C. Area Feminist Chorus. They became a couple in 1986 while touring in the United Kingdom with the musical Godspell with the MSSD Performing Arts program. They married in Washington, D.C., on March 9, 2010, the first day that the city legalized marriage equality.

Janne and Deb built their family through international adoption with their daughter Lucy. Thereafter, the family became active with suburban Maryland international adoption groups and helped them to extend their outreach. Their family bonded with several other families with adopted children, and those relationships have remained lifelong.

Janne is predeceased by her mother, Nancy Bowling Harrelson; father, Navy Captain George David Harrelson (ret.); several aunts and uncles; and infant brother John. She is survived by her wife, Deborah Weiner; daughter Lucy Youyou Jade Weiner Harrelson; brother George, his wife Laura, and their daughter Alana; brother Clay, his wife Diane, and their children David and Laura Marie; brother Paul and his wife Erin; cousin Mitchell and his wife Annie; and numerous close relatives in North Carolina descended from her father’s large family.

A memorial service will be held on Friday, September 22 at 11 a.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Silver Spring, 10309 New Hampshire Avenue, Silver Spring, Maryland. It will be interpreted in ASL and streamed through Zoom.

Contributions in Janne’s memory can be made to the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition. Janne raised funds for NOCC as a survivor. Donations can also be made to a local cancer research center that serves cancer survivors in your community.

Hi5 thanks Deb Weiner, Erin Moriarty Harrelson, and Paul Harrelson for providing content for this appreciation.

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