I first met Jane in 2007 during a Science Times meeting as she sat at a conference table with her fellow reporters, knitting up a storm. (Jane’s knitting through meetings is part of her legend at the paper.) She would stop on occasion to give her two cents about a health story idea. Years later, when Jane moved to the Well desk, 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 yourself, sharing her own goals to travel, learn Spanish and attend more concerts and lectures. In her 70s, she took her four grandsons on an Alaskan nature cruise and a tented 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’s still looking for a teacher to help her learn to play the bandoneon, an accordionlike instrument popular in Argentina.
I think Jane’s greatest strength, however, has been to serve as a comforting voice during times of uncertainty. She tackled a taboo topic in her book “Jane Brody’s Guide to the Great Beyond,” a primer for helping families prepare for the end of life. Just a year later, Jane put its precepts into practice when her husband, Richard Engquist, was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. She always thought of her readers, sharing her personal story of living with her husband’s fatal diagnosis; then, after he died, she wrote about 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 life in lockdown. Jane crafted one of the most popular columns of her career at the age of 80, when she shared thoughts on how to age gracefully. I was delighted she agreed to host a lively conversation with Dr. Anthony S. Fauci about living well into your 80s and beyond. To mark her 80th birthday, she shared this advice:
Strive to do what you love for as long as you can do it. If the vicissitudes of life or infirmities of age preclude a preferred 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.
While Jane accepts no excuses for herself, she’s quite compassionate about the health struggles of others, including my own challenges with losing weight. “People come in all shapes and sizes,” Jane told me. “We’re not all meant to look like fashion models or ballet dancers, nor should we want to.”
That said, being in Jane’s presence does tend to bring out the best in people. I remember waiting for an elevator with some guests at a Times event a few years ago, when suddenly we heard Jane’s voice booming from down the hall.
“Jane’s coming!” someone said. It was immediately clear that none of us wanted Jane to see us taking the elevator, so we all sprinted toward the stairwell just as she power-walked around the corner. Jane, of course, headed straight for the stairs, and we all dutifully followed her.
And that is the power and joy of Jane Brody. For more than five decades, Jane’s wisdom, wit and writing have lifted us up, motivated us to try harder and nudged us to be just a little better than we were before.