Janice Weatherford: chemical salesperson and activist, 63

Janice Weatherford, a former Philadelphia-area LGBT activist, died last month of cancer.

She was 63.

Weatherford was a native of Alabama who moved to the Philly area in 1992. She spent nearly 25 years working in global chemical sales at BASF Corporation, retiring last month.

Weatherford and wife Barbara Odell lived in Chester County for more than two decades and moved to Santa Fe in 2012.

Weatherford earned a bachelor’s degree from Birmingham Southern College and went on to become the first woman hired into the industrial-chemical sales field at Diamond Shamrock Chemical Co.

Odell said Weatherford’s people sense made her a natural in the sales industry.

“The great thing about Jan — and I was always amazed by this — she would run into people she hadn’t seen for two years and she’d say, ‘How’s your son doing in college?’ She’d remember what school he went to, what he was studying, the fact he’d gone to Italy, and the other person’s eyes would just get wide,” Odell said. “That’s why she was so good at what she did. She’d have half-a-dozen customers for her accounts and she just remembered every single thing about their lives.”

Odell and Weatherford met in 1993 when Weatherford visited Provincetown, where Odell was working.

“She walked into the store where I was working by herself and just took a liking to me and we got talking. I told her I had a puppy and she said maybe she could come walk the dog with me and then it turned into maybe we could go out to dinner,” Odell said. “She told me a lot of things at dinner about her life and, at the end, she said, ‘I’ve never told anyone these things and I just met you. There must be something here.’”

Weatherford began taking a flight up to Boston each weekend and driving to PTown, spending the weekend with Odell and then leaving Monday mornings, often straight for business trips to places like Chicago and Texas.

Eventually, the traveling became challenging.

“After a month, she just said, ‘I’m exhausted, I can’t do this. You’re just going to have to move in with me,’” Odell said. “We met the last week of September and in the first week of November, we borrow a friend’s truck, packed it up and I moved down, sight-unseen, to Southern Chester County.”

During their time in the area, the couple was involved in a number of LGBT-focused initiatives.

Odell worked as a grant writer at the Center for Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights — the predecessor to Equality Pennsylvania — and Weatherford sat on its board. Weatherford was also a member of the board of governors of the Human Rights Campaign and co-chaired one of its Philadelphia dinners.

She was a strong supporter of early Liberty City Democratic Club get-out-the-vote efforts and was among the activists lobbying for the city’s domestic-partner legislation in 1998.

Odell said she and Weatherford were in Council chambers as the legislation was debated.

“It was very contentious in the chambers. The other side had bussed people in and there was a guy on the other side of the aisle from us who almost decked Jan. She had her picket signs and she refused to be quiet and he started in on her. It was a different time,” she said.

Weatherford also led the charge for, and ultimately secured, domestic-partner benefits at her workplace.

Odell said Weatherford made it a point to be both out and proud.

“She made it her mission that every time she got on a plane or wherever she went, she would introduce herself as being a lesbian. She wanted to educate every person she met,” Odell said. “Going back 20 years ago, people didn’t talk as openly about that as they do now. But she wanted to tell everybody and educate the world, one person, at a time, that she was a lesbian and she was just like them.”

The couple decided to have a house built in New Mexico several years ago, and Weatherford committed to building it as a wholly sustainable, 100-percent solar property.

The pair married in New Mexico last summer; they had originally wed in Massachusetts in 2005.

Weatherford had been dealing with psoriatic arthritis and last year was diagnosed with stage-three ovarian cancer; she was treated but the cancer returned in February.

She was treated via in-home hospice so she could be surrounded by her dogs, whom she called her children.

Odell said Weatherford was a passionate, and compassionate, person.

“She was very sincere about everything she did. She was a perfectionist sometimes to the point that it was nauseating, but that’s just how she wanted things; everything had to be done right. And she was very good at keeping up relationships; she had friends literally from childhood. She did everything to the best she could.”

Besides Odell, Weatherford is survived by her father, Foss James Weatherford Jr.; brother-in-law, George Odell; and a number of other relatives, cousins and friends.

Weatherford was cremated and a memorial gathering is being planned in Santa Fe. Donations can be made in her memory to PMS Hospice Center of Santa Fe.