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Epilogue | Janet Nussbaum

Lessons of a teacher and poet continue to ring true

ST. PETERSBURG — Janet Nussbaum, a retired English teacher and poet, died in St. Petersburg Friday after a battle with pulmonary fibrosis. She was 84.

For five years, she wrote for the St. Petersburg Times' "My View" column, sharing little bits of herself — thoughts, memories, small hopes for the world.

She came from modest beginnings that shaped her thinking.

I had a very privileged childhood: We were poor. … Mother baked every Saturday, and we went to the public library, where books were free.

She taught junior high students, whom she loved through their rowdiness. She called their bluff by dressing like a witch at Halloween.

It would be good to hear about teens who succeed; they are legion, but perhaps not as absorbing reading as teenage pregnancy, teen crime rampages.

She imparted high standards on her three children. She reveled in family time and playfulness.

On long trips, their arguments about space that had been invaded or toys not shared made the miles longer. The car didn't interest them until we put one child in the trunk. … It became the best game of all, and they still chuckle over the conversations they had between the back seat and the trunk.

She wanted us to lighten up.

I'd like all us Floridians to laugh at ourselves. … There is a magic and enchantment to Florida. … Instead of Barney, we could use a cuddly alligator who sings merry sunshine songs.

She helped people carry groceries or let them cut in the checkout line.

We might cause a miracle if each of us would try one act of kindness per week!

She was a proud liberal and a champion for women's rights. During segregation, she invited black friends into her home.

The fern shoots continue to press upward, and I, with other concerned Americans, must eradicate the roots. We need to work for better schooling, better housing and education for all of us to understand where the tentacles of our prejudices are reaching.

She loved healthy competition. She and her husband Leo played Scrabble before dinner. On their 66th wedding anniversary last year, their win record was tied.

We have to be taught that we are not always going to win or come in first. … Second-best is good training for living.

She longed for positivity.

We know there is so much hatred in the world. We all have our own experiences that encourage us to take on causes. Let's try for the greater good for the greater number of our citizens.

She always had more to do.

My "around-to-it" list hasn't shortened. One of these days I'll review my schoolgirl French, I'll finish the thread-count P.J. Moss picture, I'll really finish Remembrance of Things Past, I'll write Sen. Dole another letter …

Stephanie Hayes can be reached at or (727) 893-8857.


Janet Nussbaum

Born: March 26, 1924.

Died: Jan. 30, 2009.

Survivors: husband, Leo Nussbaum; children, Felicity Nussbaum, Luther Nussbaum, Margaret Cooley; sister, Dorothy Birchfield; six grandchildren; three great-grandchildren.

Lessons of a teacher and poet continue to ring true 02/02/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 3, 2009 9:58am]
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