Janet Brinker Wilcox died May 9, 2017 at Oaknoll Retirement Community after a short illness and a long, well-lived, and happy life.
She was born Dec. 7, 1921 in Keokuk, Iowa. Her parents were Ruth Evans Brinker, a housewife, and Walter Burnette Brinker, a civil engineer and entrepreneur. She grew up in a grand stone house built on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River. From there she could see the Keokuk lock and dam and the hydroelectric plant which her father helped build. She graduated from Keokuk High School in 1939. Up until this past April she drove to monthly high school alumni gatherings in Keokuk.
Jan attended the University of Iowa, receiving her B.S. degree in 1943 her M.D. in 1945.
Her education was accelerated because of the urgency to produce physicians for WWII. Interestingly, both of Jan’s sisters also became physicians, and her only brother became a two-star general in the Army. While in college, Jan lived in Currier Hall, and made many lifelong friends along the way.
She met her husband, Robert Arthur Wilcox, at a medical school picnic, introduced to him earlier by her sister, Elizabeth (Sib). After her internship at Englewood (New Jersey) Community Hospital they were married in Keokuk March 31, 1946. Jan was a staff physician at the UI Student Health Service from 1946-1949, “retiring” for the first time when her first child was born. She stayed home to raise their six children. She was an exceptional bread baker and pie maker and put three meals a day on the table in the era when children and spouses came home for lunch (there were few fast food or take-out choices in Iowa City then). Needless to say, she was an early advocate of the dishwasher and central air conditioning. She returned to Student Health after the youngest child attended junior high school.
Popular with students and colleagues alike, and known for her empathy and common sense, her standard advice to her college student patients was: “Eat when you’re hungry, drink when you’re dry, go to bed when you’re tired, if it hurts don’t do it, and use the bathroom when you first get the urge.” She and Bob enjoyed traveling, both with family and as a couple. They had a wide circle of friends, many from the University Newcomer’s Club. They played bridge and entertained guests around their big, round, maple kitchen table. They often temporarily “adopted” a lonely graduate student, and particularly enjoyed the company and wisdom of their across-the-street neighbor, Mr. Les Freswick. Jan’s mother, Ruth, lived with the Wilcox family until the late 1960s.
Service to the Iowa City community was important to Jan. Among her many other service interests, she was a Girl Scout leader and cookie sales chairwoman, advisor to the Visiting Nurse Association, first woman member of the Trinity Episcopal Vestry, first woman president of the Johnson County Medical Society, a board member Oaknoll Retirement Community and also of the State of Iowa Foundation for Medical Care.
After the sudden and premature death of her husband in 1973, she shared deep love and companionship of Mr. Jim Swaner. They enjoyed motorhome traveling, camping and bonfires, and watching the corn and soybeans grow (they had an annual friendly rivalry as to whose farm produced the higher yields). Jan and Jim loved to dance, developing a unique, improvisational technique, which became their trademark. They also loved watching the Iowa Hawkeyes, and had season tickets to football, basketball and wrestling for decades, and Jan often signed personal letters or notes: “GO HAWKS!!”
Jan could tell a naughty story, enjoy a nightly bourbon on the rocks, and encourage people to “quit smoking, lose weight, eat cottage cheese and HAVE FUN!” She loved, and was loved by, her family and many friends.
Jan was preceded in death by her parents, her older brother Gen. Walter Evans Brinker and older sister, Dr. Ruth Brinker Bracket. Her survivors include her partner, Jim Swaner; her sister, Dr. Elizabeth Brinker Cramer; Jan’s children, Lisa Case (husband Bill and daughter Leah), Karen Wilcox (children Molly, Elizabeth and Max), Scott Wilcox, Amy Wilkinson (husband Tom and daughter Allison), Kirk Wilcox (wife Denise and children Bobby, Kyle and Kirsten), and Nina Petran (husband Jim and children Sam and Nora), and nieces, nephews, and three great grandchildren (Magnus, Reuben, and Clark).
Her body was donated to the UI Anatomy Dept. A farewell party will be held at Oaknoll on Friday May 19, 2017 from 3-5pm. Online condolences may be shared with her family through the funeral home website @ www.gayandciha.com.
The family wishes to extend appreciation and thanks to the staff and residents at Oaknoll and to Hospice of Iowa City for their support during Jan’s final journey.
In lieu of memorials or flowers, please donate to a charity of your choice, be kind to a loved one or stranger, and above all, appreciate the wonders of nature and enjoy life.