Janice Ilene Bunfill Leach (“Jan”) departed this life in the early hours of Saturday, 18 April 2020, at home, in the loving embrace of her family after a long and full life. She spent a lifetime of sharing love and laughter with family and friends, had a career that she loved, traveled the world, bravely undertook many adventures, and was the most wonderful mother, wife, sister, and friend that anyone could ever have asked for.
How can I summarize the life of this amazing woman in just a few paragraphs?
She was born on 1 August 1932 in Quaker City, Ohio, to Oscar Francis Bunfill and Alice Mae Galloway Bunfill, the third among seven children, including Bob, Opal, Shirley, Oscar Vernon (who died in infancy), Marjorie, and Larry. She graduated from Quaker City High School in 1949 and soon afterward moved to Washington, DC to work for the FBI. There she lived in an apartment with other young women whose friendships would last a lifetime.
In 1955 Jan married Bob Leach and in the years to follow she was stationed with him and held various jobs at United States Air Force and Army bases around the world, including Libya, Japan, Hawai’i, Maryland, and Greece.
In 1965 Jan and Bob welcomed me, their son Jeffrey Alan, into the world and provided me with all the love and care that any child could ever want. Jan was a devoted mother, instilling in me her own love of learning, adventure, travel, hard work, and friendliness. So much of what is good in me is due directly to her loving, loyal influence. The first two songs she taught me were “The Old Rugged Cross” and the “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” two fitting songs for her life of faith in God and love of country.
In 1968 Jan began a long career at the National Security Agency, starting as a Directorate level Executive Secretary in the 1970s. Throughout her career she served in four Directorates. Her last job at NSA was as the Executive Secretary for the NSA senior ranking General in the Operations Organization. Jan retired from NSA in 1995 after serving almost 40 years as a treasured government civilian. She loved her career and excelled at it, winning many awards and accolades over the years, the most valuable of which for her were the many friendships she made along the way.
I remember the night of my Mom’s retirement ceremony, a crowning event in her life. About 200 people assembled in the hallowed halls of the intelligence community who defend our great land, old friends and new, from numerous star-bedecked generals and colonels to coworkers to neighbors. In a dignified, touching, and humorous ceremony they said what I have always known: that my mother was a woman of generosity, knowledge, resourcefulness, indomitable will, fierce loyalty, tender lovingkindness, and “the best-looking redhead we know.” What an outpouring of love and light and gladness. There are some events that tie together a thousand strands woven over many years and that close off a part of the tapestry of life so beautifully and with such a sense of completion; this was one of those events. I was very proud of this woman who sat that night like a beautiful, loving queen, and I rejoiced to see her honored.
As all who knew her can attest, Jan was an unstoppable dynamo of energy. Even after retirement, her active spirit led her to work for several companies in and around DC, to return to NSA to work in the travel office part-time, to serve on the staff of the National Cryptologic Museum, and to hold various positions in the Freedom Through Vigilance Association (FTVA) as she helped organize the annual reunions. In addition, Jan worked as a travel agent; her family and friends will long remember the wonderful trips she organized for them.
Jan accomplished all these things despite obstacles along the way, which she trusted God to help her overcome. When she was 28 years old it was discovered that she had a heart defect that required open-heart-surgery—a new procedure with survival rates of only 50%; she braved the odds and survived. In 2014 she suffered the loss of my father, which was a heavy blow to her. In her later years she struggled with Parkinson’s Disease and other ailments, but through it all held onto her faith in God.
Jan lived at the same house in Odenton, Maryland for 42 years. There she built strong friendships with dear neighbors, work colleagues, and fellow members of Faith Community Church, which she faithfully attended from its beginnings in the late 1970s until she moved to Fairfax in 2016 so I could look after and care for her better. The home she made in Odenton was always open to many guests—family at the holidays, friends from work, my friends from school, old friends from all over the world. My Mom loved nothing more than to entertain, to feed people, and to make them happy, and her home, like her heart, was always open. She was always positive and fun: those who knew her will long remember her one-liners that inspired laughter.
Though she loved her home, Jan also loved to travel the world and take her family and friends with her. In her lifetime she traveled to and lived on four continents. So many of her friends and family were blessed to go with her on her perfectly-planned trips: to Alaska, Hawai’i, the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico, Europe, and Canada. One cold winter she surprised me with a trip to Bermuda and wouldn’t tell me where we were going till we boarded the ship in Baltimore. We traveled to Iceland together and, best of all, we spent twelve wonderful days touring Ireland, which she loved.
In later years Jan suffered with Parkinson's Disease, heart problems, broken bones, and nearly-fatal episodes with an ulcer and pneumonia but she was a fighter, and I stood by her side as she made amazing recoveries from each medical event. For the past two years she had done amazingly well and I am grateful for every minute we had, every trip to see old friends, every dinner together, every singing with friends at her nursing home, and every chance we had to say "I love you," which we did often. She was my last immediate family member, my dear Mom who always stood by me and encouraged me, who loved me unconditionally and always thought of me, even up to the very end, and I will miss her terribly until we meet again one day, when all tears will be wiped away.
Thank you so much to those of you who have loved her and especially to those of you who have reached out to and supported her during these last, difficult years.
Jan is survived by her sisters Opal and Shirley, her brother Larry, her son Jeffrey, and many beloved nieces, nephews, and friends. She was loved by all who knew her and the world is a better place for having had her in it.
Given the pandemic, the family will hold a private ceremony at Donaldson Funeral Home in Odenton, MD, followed by a private burial at Crownsville Veterans Cemetery in Maryland. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that a donation be made to the American Heart Association or the Parkinson’s Foundation in Jan’s memory. Later, when things are safer, the family will hold a celebration of life in memory of Jan.
I feel like my tears will flow forever. I will love and miss you for the rest of my life, Mom.
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