Janet Eileen Gorloff Vander Beek was born on June 10, 1955, in Montreal. Her father, George Gorloff, worked for the accounting equipment company McBee, while her mom, Eileen, was a piano teacher. The family grew with the birth of Susan 16 months later. Two days before Janet’s fifth birthday, her brother Jim was born.
Janet embraced the responsibility of being the eldest. Whenever there was cleaning to be done or siblings in need of tutoring for school, helping out was a compulsion, Jim says. “She was a motherly type from the very beginning.”
The family moved to Toronto in 1965, when her dad was promoted to president of the company. Janet was sad to leave Montreal, but the family returned often, including for ski trips to Mont Tremblant every March break. Even in harsh weather, Janet was on the slopes. “She did catch the odd T-bar in the head when the wind would blow,” Jim says.
Janet played golf and joined the high school swim team, but she inherited her mother’s musical talents. Janet fell in love with the French horn in Grade 7. She performed at the 1970 World Expo in Japan with her school band and later joined the North York Concert Band. Despite her commitments, when mom and dad weren’t able to drive Jim to his hockey games, Janet volunteered to help as soon as she got her licence.
Janet stayed in Toronto to study nursing at Seneca College. At a pool party in the summer of 1975, she met Ron Vander Beek, a chiropractic student. The two spent the entire summer together, be it at music concerts, visiting friends in Montreal or camping in Quebec City.
In 1976, Ron bought a chiropractic practice in the northern Ontario town of Kapuskasing. Janet, meanwhile, moved south to work as a nurse at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. They both would undertake the 18-hour drive to visit each other, but not for long. The following year, Janet got a nursing job at the hospital in Kapuskasing and she married Ron in 1980.
They had two girls, Laura and Kelly, in 1981 and 1983, and then two boys, Mark and Jeff, in 1984 and 1987. Raising four kids in Kapuskasing included plenty of time outdoors and Janet was constantly corralling them all to get to school or sporting events on time. “She was a 110-lb. bundle of energy,” Kelly says.
To be closer to relatives, the family moved to Kitchener, Ont., in 1989, buying a home down the street from Janet’s parents. Ron started a new practice and Janet, being good with numbers, found work accounting at her brother’s company, Phoenix Skin Care Products. Janet’s other full-time job was driving across town for hockey practices or ski events. “My mom was the taxi driver,” Kelly says. “She would spend three to ﬁve hours in the car every day.” She gave rides to all the kids on the teams, buying two vanity plates: “BIG TXI” and “LTL TXI”—big taxi and little taxi. To keep track of her errands, her home and cars were filled with sticky notes. “If she didn’t have anything close by, she’d write on the back of a map,” Kelly says.
When relatives were looking for updates, they would call Janet. “She was the family spokesperson,” Ron says, adding that she spoke a mile a minute, but was a great listener. “She could walk up to a perfect stranger, talk to them for five minutes, then come back and tell us their whole life history.”
When Jeff was posted with the Canadian Forces in Chilliwack, B.C., for six months, she insisted on bringing him his car. She finished the cross-country drive, despite a minor accident, but the car would only last a week before it died.
When Janet found out both her daughters were pregnant in 2013, “she was buzzing with excitement for nine months,” Kelly says. Within two days of each other, in October, Janet had two grandkids and couldn’t contain her excitement. “I thought she was going to explode,” Kelly laughs. Janet prepared little Julia and Cooper for winter by knitting them toques, mittens and Christmas stockings.
On March 15, Ron and Janet were driving home from their cottage during a whiteout when they spotted a spun-out car. They pulled over to help, and Janet offered to keep the stranger’s kids warm in their vehicle until help arrived. As she was loading the children inside, an approaching SUV began to slide as it tried to slow down near the scene. Ron hit the gas to move their vehicle in time to save the children. Janet was struck by the SUV on the side of the road. She was 58.