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IN MEMORIAM: Janice Corbett of CAAA and ASUCD

By Dave Jones on May 1, 2018 in University

Janice Corbett envisioned two dream jobs in her life:

Janice Corbett mugshot
Corbett

The 1994 alumna wanted to work for the Cal Aggie Alumni Association, so she could stay in touch with her Aggie family, recalled Rich Engel, assistant vice chancellor of Alumni Relations and executive director of the CAAA. Corbett realized this dream, starting as the membership manager and rising to associate executive director, with time as interim executive director.

And she wanted eventually to succeed ASUCD business officer Mark Champagne, because “she had worked for him as a student and thought his role was the center of everything UC Davis,” Engel said. She realized this dream in 2013, only to have cancer intervene last year.

Corbett died Sunday (April 29) at the age of 47, at her home in Davis, with her family beside her, one year and one day after her diagnosis.

‘Students meant everything to her’

Hers was a life well lived with family and friends, and service to the university she loved. “Her students meant everything to her,” said her husband, Larry. “That was her life. She loved mentoring them. She loved coaching them. She loved helping young people.”

He spoke while poring through hundreds of cards and letters of sympathy. “They have nothing but gratitude for her, as she does for them.”

Corbett waves hand from Picnic Day table.
Corbett on Picnic Day duty for the CAAA in 2011, pictured with her oldest son, Anthony, and Cheng Saechao ’07.

Corbett’s father, Herb Wimmer, said UC Davis provided the perfect platform for her passion for mentoring young people. “That’s a huge piece of who she was,” he said, noting how former students stayed in touch with her from all over the world.

“If you wanted to say what she was about, she was about UC Davis,” her father said.

Corbett, who grew up in Pinole, arrived at UC Davis as a freshman in 1989 and became immersed in campus activities. She was a member of the Picnic Day Board from 1989 to 1993, Campus Unions and Recreation Board, Student Activities Advisory Committee and the Dean’s Student Advisory Committee in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, as well as a program advisor in Student Housing. On top of all that, she worked as the assistant business manager of the ASUCD from 1991 to 1994.

“Janice is synonymous with Aggie Pride,” said Allison Chilcott ’93, who met Janice Wimmer when they worked for the ASUCD as students. “One of her many legacies was teaching everyone she came in contact with, what it meant to be a loyal Aggie. I can’t imagine campus without her.”

Engel met Corbett in 2003 when he was serving as CAAA vice president and she had just been hired. “She said that coming back to UC Davis was her top priority after working for Barclays (Global Investors) and the Institute for Fiduciary Education after her graduation in 1994,” Engel recalled. Then she told him about her other dream job, adding that she felt it would never happen because she was convinced Champagne would never retire.

‘Vibrant and full of life’

Well, he did, in 2013. By this time, Engel had become the CAAA’s executive director and Corbett’s boss. “The ASUCD actively recruited her to her other ‘dream job,’” Engel said.

“She was the most loyal, fair and professional employee you could ever work with,” Engel said. “As a manager she was honest and forthright and could have the difficult conversations as easily as she could compliment a job well done.”

Kathy Wilton worked in the ASUCD business office when Janice worked for the ASUCD as a student. “She was vibrant and full of life ... she was a bright light,” said Wilton, who continues to work for the ASUCD and was there when Corbett returned as the business manager.

“That light continued to shine throughout her life,” Wilton said. “She will forever be my Aggie Daughter.”

Corbett herself became “Mama Warrior” during her battle with cancer, and her friends and loved ones became her “Warriors” — as proclaimed on the T-shirts they wore to Pajamarino last fall.

One of those “Warriors,” San Lee, has worked as UC Davis’ Undergraduate Admissions representative in Hong Kong since 2011, and returned to Davis to be with Corbett before she died.

Corbett, San and Mu lee with flowers at wedding
San Lee ’09 and Mu Chou ’10 and their wedding planner, November 2016.

“Janice has been my mentor since I worked as a student employee at CAAA in 2007,” Lee said. “We stayed in touch after I graduated in 2009, and she had guided me through so much in life — professionally and personally. She even planned my wedding back in 2016 in Winters.”

The friends promised to plan each other’s 50th wedding anniversaries, leading to Lee’s plaintive Facebook post April 30: “Now, who’s gonna be in charge for our 50th wedding anniversary?”

Lee’s post continued: “Thank you for being in my life. You have been the light to many, many people, everyone in this community and beyond, all the students you worked with ... with your wisdom, your grace.

“You loved us with all your heart and we would not be where we are without you. Your babies around the world will miss you terribly, part of you will always remain within us and that’s the legacy we are carrying on. ... ’Til we meet again, my Mama Warrior.”

Corbett was a double major at UC Davis, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in agricultural managerial economics and a Bachelor of Arts in psychology. Amid her career at UC Davis, she earned an MBA with high honors from Golden Gate University in 2005.

Chilcott and Corbett knew each other for nearly 30 years through different phases of their lives: undergrads, at the CAAA when Chilcott served on the board, as parents of children at the same schools and church, and as work colleagues when Chilcott became executive director of development for the Office of Research in 2005.

‘Everybody’s personal cheerleader’

“Janice always gave so much of herself to everyone she met — students and colleagues alike,” Chilcott said. “She was everybody’s personal cheerleader, with a radiant smile, an empathetic ear and endearing wisdom. She worked harder than anyone I’ve ever known but still managed to connect deeply with people across campus, one on one, in meaningful ways.

“She was always using her wide network to connect people who could benefit from knowing one another. I came away from every interaction with her inspired to be a better version of myself.”

Corbett’s Facebook page radiates rainbows and hope — and Aggie challenges: “Hug an Egghead until you catch someone smile ... collecting a Silo of smiles,” she posted Jan. 29. Then, two days later, “Reach out to an Aggie from your past you haven’t connected with in years and see how much joy it brings.”

She is survived by her husband, Larry, and two sons, Anthony and Dominic; parents, Christine and Herb Wimmer; sister and brother-in-law, Nancy and Steve Veatch; many aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews and nieces; and a multitude of friends around the world.  

A funeral Mass will be held at 10 a.m. Tuesday, May 8, at St. James Catholic Church, 1275 B St., Davis, and a reception will follow in Asmundson Memorial Center at the church.

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