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Janet Radcliffe, Towson coffee shop founder and church volunteer, dies

BALTIMORE, MD -- 12/18/15 -- Janet Radcliffe, obit photo, mug;former proprietor of Gloria Jeans Coffee at Towsontown Mall md-ob-janet-radcliffe HANDOUT/HANDOUT #
BALTIMORE, MD -- 12/18/15 -- Janet Radcliffe, obit photo, mug;former proprietor of Gloria Jeans Coffee at Towsontown Mall md-ob-janet-radcliffe HANDOUT/HANDOUT # (HANDOUT / Baltimore Sun)

Janet L. Radcliffe, founder of a Towson Town Center coffee shop and a church volunteer, died Dec. 8 of cancer at a sister's home in Baltimore County. She was 57.

"She was a very charismatic and giving person, and when she walked into a room she just lit it up," said Kathleen Capcara, lay associate for parish life at Trinity Episcopal Church in Towson.

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Janet Lynn Radcliffe was born in Baltimore and raised in Cockeysville. She was the daughter of M. Stanley Radcliffe, an attorney, and Theodore Van Wyk "Teddy" Radcliffe, a homemaker.

A 1976 graduate of Dulaney High School, she earned an associate's degree in restaurant management from what is now the Community College of Baltimore County, Essex. She later earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Baltimore.

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Ms. Radcliffe worked at Chi-Chi's in Timonium, Charlie's Place in Pittsburgh and the old Steak and Ale in Timonium before opening a Gloria Jean's Coffees franchise in 1997 at Towson Town Center.

"Janet was one of those rare employers who offered young people their first work experience," said Vivian Radcliffe-Worthington, a sister who lives in Phoenix, Baltimore County.

"During those years, she employed her nieces and nephews to become special employees for two weeks of every summer, sampling drinks to promote the business," said Ms. Radcliffe-Worthington. "During the sampling period, 3- to 12-year-old relatives stood at the door of the coffee shop with little trays of frozen specialties that they handed out to passersby.

"Janet admitted that, more often than not, people would stop to take a sample and get a kick out of the baby employee, making her young relatives much more enticing samplers than regular employees," Ms. Radcliffe-Worthington said. "She paid them with toys, trinkets and Happy Meals."

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Ms. Radcliffe closed the business in 2008 and was looking for a job when a brother, Michael Radcliffe, was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig's disease. She became his caregiver.

"Janet willingly and without hesitation put her life on hold in order to take care of Michael as he lost function in his body," said another sister, Cynthia "Cindy" Adler, also of Phoenix.

"She took care of him until she was diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma by a tumor growing on the back of her neck," said Ms. Radcliffe-Worthington.

Michael Radcliffe died in July 2011.

"She thought the pain in her back came from lifting her brother Michael, but after he died it did not go away, and that's when she was diagnosed with her cancer," said Ms. Capcara.

"When her brother died, Janet was only given 18 to 24 months to live," said another brother, Stuart Radcliffe of Ellicott City. "She was a fighter until the end and outlasted her prognosis by almost two years."

"Janet had always been a very driven, active person so simply sitting around to take care of herself was not an option," said Ms. Radcliffe-Worthington.

In spring 2013, Ms. Radcliffe began volunteering at the Surprise Shop, a consignment charity operated by Trinity Episcopal Church on Allegheny Avenue.

"Janet could contribute to the community yet have enough flexibility to stay home and rest if the side effects of the chemotherapy became too much," said Ms. Radcliffe-Worthington.

Even though she was weak and sick at times, Ms. Radcliffe would come in for her shift because she wanted to stay busy and liked the people she worked with, Ms. Radcliffe-Worthington said.

"Janet volunteered four days a week, and everyone who worked with her recalled her cheerfulness and what an inspiration she was," said Ms. Capcara.

The former Timonium resident, who moved in with Ms. Radcliffe-Worthington in 2009, enjoyed painting with acrylics. She also compiled scrapbooks and created zentangle designs.

"She was very creative and we had taken zentangle classes together. You could tell that [at times] she was tired and in pain but she always remained cheerful," said Ms. Capcara. "We are putting several of her zentangle designs in her funeral bulletin."

A world traveler, Ms. Radcliffe had taken several nieces on journeys to Disney World and London, and traveled to Spain with Ms. Radcliffe-Worthington.

A memorial service celebrating her life will be held at 1:30 p.m. Sunday at Trinity Episcopal Church, 120 Allegheny Ave., Towson.

In addition to her brother and two sisters, Ms. Radcliffe is survived by many nieces and nephews.

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