Janet Hicks is dying.
Her hospice nurse says she has hours, maybe days left. But she wanted the story of her 63-year marriage to her husband, David, to be shared. She leafed through their wedding album to choose the photo she hoped would be included.
Though a lifelong nonsmoker, lung cancer has ravaged her body and affected her vocal chords, so she let David tell their story. Her three adult children filled in some blanks, recalling memories their mother shared when she was still able.
At the end of the interview, David, 84, held the phone near Janet, 85, and asked if she’d like to add anything.
“No,” she whispered. “You got it all right.”
David Hicks and Janet Tauli met on a blind date in June 1954.
A student at Westmont College, in Santa Barbara, California, Janet had returned home to Portland for summer break. That’s where a mutual friend set her up with David Hicks, who was attending Cascade College in Portland.
It was an immediate attraction for Janet. She never forgot the first time she gazed into David’s eyes.
He took her to a Youth for Christ meeting, and then out for sushi where they discussed his summer job.
David was a premed student and worked at Portland’s Emmanuel Hospital in the pathology lab. Assisting with autopsies was one of his duties.
“We enjoyed our evening of sushi and autopsies,” he recalled, chuckling.
Over that Fourth of July weekend, they went to the Oregon coast with another couple. It proved to be a painfully memorable outing.
“Janet had a nice tan because she’d been in Santa Barbara, but I got a nasty sunburn,” David said.
So nasty, he ended up as a patient in the same hospital where he worked.
“They wrapped me in Vaseline-soaked gauze.”
Janet was a frequent visitor during his stay, and when she returned to California, they kept in touch by mail.
“We wrote three or four letters a week,” David said.
They announced their engagement on New Year’s Eve when she was home over winter break.
David’s proposal proved prosaic.
“We got to talking about life insurance,” he recalled. “I said, ‘You need to name your beneficiary.’ There was a lovely long pause, then I said, ‘How about you? Would you like to be my beneficiary?’”
She agreed, and they married July 6, 1956, in Portland.
Janet had graduated and taken a teaching job at an elementary school, and David had been accepted to medical school.
A few months into his first year, he contracted infectious hepatitis at a school lab.
“The professor mishandled the syringe,” he said. “I slept 14 hours a day and dragged myself to class, but I couldn’t study.”
Then he received a letter.
“You are hereby dismissed for deficient scholarship,” it read.
It was a devastating blow.
“I’d always wanted to be a doctor,” David said. “It was my lifelong dream.”
His sadness was somewhat alleviated when within days of receiving the letter, they welcomed their first child, Alan.
David returned to undergrad school to take education courses, and then taught high school biology in Oregon City.
It was an exciting time for someone with a passion for science.
“The Russians launched Sputnik, and all of the sudden there was lots of financial aid available for science students,” he recalled.
He spent part of his summer break in 1958 studying radiation biology at the University of Washington in Seattle.
“They gave me my own Geiger counter and my high school students loved that!.
In 1960, Janet gave birth to Brenda, and David received a scholarship to study molecular biology at University of California, Berkeley.
“It was a brand new discipline – very exciting stuff,” he said. “We rented a house in Berkeley and had a magical summer in San Francisco.”
More academic excitement waited. David received a one-year fellowship to the University of Georgia. They packed up the family, moving to Georgia during a long, hot summer, and that’s where David found his destiny.
He met Professor Eugene Odum, widely considered to be the father of modern ecology.
“I didn’t even know the discipline of ecology existed,” David said.
Studying under Odum sealed his fate. Within a week, David went to Odum’s office and asked to be his grad student. Then he went home and told Janet he’d like to stay in Georgia for more than just a year.
It proved to be a challenging time for the young mom. In 1962, daughter Cheryl completed the family. Janet taught school full time, while caring for three children. David was gone for extended periods for study, and took student groups to Central America for January study term.
Through it all, Janet held down the fort.
Her patience was rewarded when David earned his doctorate in 1967, and fielded multiple job offers, before accepting a position at Whitworth University.
“I visited five universities and received job offers at each one,” he said. “It was like a victory tour, and I knew I’d completely recovered from medical school.”
The family happily settled in north Spokane.
David taught at Whitworth for 29 years. Meanwhile, Janet earned her master’s in teaching at Whitworth, and taught at local elementary schools for 30 years. She was instrumental in establishing kindergarten as part of K-12 education.
Her husband has always been in awe of her talent.
“I wouldn’t have been a bit surprised if she’d been the university professor, and I’d been the public school teacher,” he said.
The couple enjoyed the outdoors, backpacking, hiking, and when they both retired they found a shared passion in birdwatching.
“I consider my wife my very best friend, ever,” David said.
They also enjoyed travel, and the Oregon coast remained their favorite place, despite his sunburn incident.
Recently, as David sat by her side, holding her hand, he said, “I think God brought us together. I think we’re God’s gift to each other.”
Though he grieves the closing of this chapter in their story, he knows how fortunate they’ve been.
“We’ve had a wonderful life together,” he said. “Just magical.”
Janet Hicks died Tuesday evening.
This story has been updated to correct Janet Hicks’ time of death. Due to a copy editor’s error, it was stated otherwise.
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