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Who was Jane?

If you don’t understand water, you don’t understand life. –Jane Dybowski

Jane Dybowski was a modern renaissance woman–a brilliant scientist, lover of literature and writing, and accomplished athlete. Her brilliant light was blown out much too soon due to a rare and virtually untreatable form of cancer: neuroendocrine cancer.

Jane lived her life with tenacity, hope and courage, inspiring everyone she met. She was a beloved wife, friend and teacher.

Jane became ill in the late summer and early fall of 2010. Doctors discovered the neuroendocrine cancer in mid-August of 2010. Jane, and Harry Proudfoot, her husband of 21 years, both acknowledged how badly the deck was stacked against survival.

If Ms Dybowski couldn’t teach a student something, no one could. She was so passionate about science that she could create a passion for science in other people. She made me want to learn about chemical bonding like no one else could. If I had to put it all in a Petri dish, I would say she was the definition of an inspiring teacher. 

–Diana Buckless

Jane sought out every available resource to treat the cancer. She maintained a moderately active lifestyle. She routinely walked the two blocks between the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute  and Brigham & Women’s Hospital where she received treatments in Boston. She refused to use a wheelchair and insisted on administering her own medical injections. Jane vowed to beat the cancer, despite the odds. Jane continued to function fairly normally until mid-November.

After Veteran’s Day, November 11, 2010, Jane’s health quickly declined. She needed to use a wheelchair, was unable to walk even short distances and required assistance in the bathroom. A surgery scheduled for later in November was moved up to the following week. The valves on the right side of her heart had stopped functioning. After an operation replaced those two valves she needed a feeding tube to maintain her strength. Following the surgery, Jane’s health seemed to improve; she was removed from monitoring devices and was preparing to move to a recovery unit.

Suddenly, Jane’s health took a rapid and unexpected turn for the worse. Even as her health failed, Jane continued to crack jokes with her husband, doctors and nurses. Two days before she died, Jane was making plans for February vacation and beyond with her husband.

A month after Veteran’s Day, on December 10, 2010, Jane passed away.

 Ms Dybowski is one of, if not the most, influential teachers I have been privileged to have. Her compassion for her students, blended with her will for them to succeed, created a unique and effective teaching style. She was always ready and willing to sit down with students one-on-one and explain a concept until the student understood. Ms. Dybowski inspires me to want to be the best teacher I can once I graduate. And if I can be a third as great a teacher as she, I will be happy.

–Kellee Barbosa

Walking with Jane was founded by Harry to honor the memory of his wife–and to beat this terrible disease.

This foundation is dedicated to the memory of an extraordinary person. Jane was a multi-talented woman.

Jane was a teacher who is remembered by her students as energetic, dedicated and tireless. She taught at Westport High School in Westport, MA for thirty years. Most recently, Jane had taught Advanced Placement Biology, Chemistry and Physics. She had a reputation as a teacher with high standards, who expected the best from her students and demanded hard work.

I would have to say that she was inspirational–to say the least. She was always pushing me and her other students to go above and beyond what we thought we could do. She helped us with any and all of our problems and always had an answer to our questions. Even if she wasn’t sure of the answer she would go out of her way to figure it out just to end our curiosity. Ms Dybowski was, without a doubt, the best teacher I ever had, and I am so happy to have had the opportunity to experience her classes and what she had to offer her students.

–Jamie Holmes

Jane was a very modest tennis shark. She routinely played a set of singles in the morning, and then returned to the court for mixed doubles in the afternoon.

She was an artist, interior designer, landscaper and gardener. Jane and Harry built and decorated their home in the mid-1990s. She planned, and Harry built, the garden beds. In retirement, she planned to take up painting.

Her humor was dry, witty and completely unexpected. Jane made science class fun, and even found the humor in her illness.

Jane was a brilliant scientist, a lover of literature and a talented editor. She graduated from Bridgewater State College (now University) in 1976, winning the William B. Vinal Award in Zoology. She solved Newtonian physics equations for fun.

Over 1,000 friends, family, colleagues and former students attended Jane’s wake and funeral.

Jane’s legacy lives on through the over $10,000 in donations made in her name to Dana-Farber, Relay for Life and Walking with Jane.

Jane truly exemplified her quote in the 2011 WHS yearbook, which was dedicated to her memory:

“We are not wimps; we are Wildcats!”

About WWJ Credits