Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Jan Sewell, beloved local realtor, dies at 65

The one word that everyone seems to use when describing Jan Sewell is generous. Yes, she certainly had that less-than-common attribute, but her positive qualities hardly stopped there. In fact, when asked today to give their impressions of Jan, her many friends, neighbors and colleagues seemed not to know where to begin. Funny, outspoken, irreverent, caring, ethical. Those were the other terms that most often came to mind—along with icon, free spirit, pioneer, and mentor. In short, Jan Sewell, one of the most appreciated and popular real estate agents in this town, is pretty universally acknowledged to have been a class act.

But now she’s gone. Sometime between Sunday evening and Tuesday morning this week, Jan Sewell died in her Madison Park home. The Medical Examiner has reported that the cause of death was heart failure due to undiagnosed heart disease.
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Almost from the very moment that her body was discovered on Tuesday, the news of her death began to reverberate in her neighborhood and in the real estate community, causing shock and disbelief. Many of her colleagues were attending the annual Windermere Symposium, an in-house real estate forum, when the word began to spread through email and text messages to the attendees. Some of them were reportedly too emotional to be able to remain focused and had to leave for the day.

According to Pat Grimm, owner and manager of Windermere’s Capitol Hill office, where Jan had worked for most of her real estate career, between 50 and 60 of her colleagues gathered spontaneously at the office last night for an informal and emotional vigil. Memories were shared, stories told, tears shed. “So many people knew her,” says Grimm, “and so many people really loved her.” Grimm praised Jan’s particular ability to build relationships, both in the community and within the industry. “It’s a big hole to fill, and the suddenness of her death is a huge shock. She was such an iconic figure.”

She is described by one colleague as having had five lives before becoming a real estate agent. The details of all of these lives have yet to be divulged to us, but we do know that immediately before obtaining her real estate license in 1993, Jan had worked for several years at the Pike Place Market. Her earlier jobs apparently included a stint as a bartender in Bellingham. She began life as a preacher's daughter.

As a real estate agent, Jan was indeed a pioneer. By combining her parallel interests in real estate, art, and design, she created a thriving side business for herself, while at the same time giving new meaning to the term staging, at least in the Seattle market. Staging is essentially the use of furnishings to help improve the ambiance of a residence, thus enhancing its sale potential. This can be as simple as re-arranging (and in some cases, removing) furniture. But Jan’s concept of staging was much more about using creative design elements and well-chosen art to help affect the sale. She was so successful in this that she became an expert in the field, being regularly quoted on the subject by both local and national media.

“She took staging to another level,” says Jeff Stanley, a Windermere colleague of Jan’s and a friend of many years. “It felt like you’d walked into a page from a top design magazine when you entered a home she had staged. What I would say about her was that she was a star.” Jon Rosichelli, who worked for Jan for almost ten years before forming his own staging business, agrees. “I was kind of in awe of her.” he says, “She was a force of nature.”

Rosichelli, like many others, spoke with emotion about Jan’s generosity to him personally and the mentoring role she played. “This is hard for me, her death. I never would have had what I have now but for her. She was a very important force in my life.”

Lilly Milic, another member of Jan’s Windermere family, also points to her generosity, saying that she was a mother or sister figure to so many people she knows. “She was my main person,” says Milic. “I really respected her.”

Jan was very active in the Seattle arts community, supporting local artists by purchasing their art for her own collection and by placing their art on the walls of her staged houses. She served on the board of the Pratt Fine Arts Center, where one board member describes her contributions as "profound" (see Comments section below). She was also a former board member of AIDS Housing of Washington.

We leave the final word on Jan to Erick Hazelton, Jan’s business partner at Windermere, who was almost too emotional to speak to us today. “She was bigger than life, a creative force and an icon who was loved by everyone who knew her," he told us. "Jan never met a stranger.”

You are invited to share your memories of Jan by clicking on "Comments" below. Memories are also being collected at Friends of Jan Sewell on Facebook.
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[Upper photo from the cover of RE magazine, January 2010. To read the cover story on Jan, click here. Lower photo courtest of Lilly Milic. Special thanks to Debra Thompson Harvey of Windermere Real Estate/Madison Park for her assistance with this posting.]

21 comments:

  1. Jan was a true shining light and will leave a huge hole in our business, neighborhood and hearts. I am so grateful to have experienced her friendship and will always wear orange toe-nail polish in the spring and think of you Jan!

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  2. Jan was like no other! Always on her game and she knew how to have fun. There will never be another like Jan Sewell. Her memory will be forever. It's such a loss. The void is unbelievable. One think we as friends can say about Jan "She lived her life to the fulliest"! Thank you Jan for touching me with your life. I'm a better person having known you.

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  3. I am so devastated by Jan's passing away. She was a friend, a colleague in the arts and a collector of my art. . . Someone who always shared the greatest of enthusiasm in her passionate interests. We both sat on the board of Pratt fine Arts Center where her contributions and support of this organization was profound. We will all miss her terribly, especially her bright smiling face. Good bye dear Jan. Thank you for sharing so much with all of us. - Judith Kindler

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  4. Wow, incredibly sad to hear this news.

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  5. Very sorry to hear that. She was definitely a well-liked agent and person in our community. Extremely sad.

    - Spencer Rascoff, Zillow.com

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  6. Jan epitomized what it truly meant to be a part of the Windermere family. We were honored to have known and worked with Jan, and will treasure the memory of her always.

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  7. Jan was my dear beloved friend for many years. We got to know each other better in 1999 when she staged my house for sale. She even made me take my beloved TV and electronics out of the living room. Imagine! But guess what? It sold in the first day on market! She went on to help me do the decor on the next house I built. She was absolutely amazing. She came to Mexico in 2000 and helped me decorate my home in Puerto Vallarta. We were planning a nice long visit this December, the usual time she came down for her visit. How we'll miss her.
    She will never be forgotten, and everytime I see hot orange and chartreuse I'll say out loud:
    "Very Jan Sewell"!

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  8. Jan was a fun neighbor to have, always living life at the top. Brief alleyway chit chats with her smile…would always send me away with a smile. Thank you Jan…

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  9. Generous, that was Jan. Thank you for the article. Quad, vanilla, soy, extra vanilla, not too hot. We shared a favorite color and shoe size. Blessed to have known her.

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  10. Loved her laugh. I've been hearing it all week. So devilish, so wise, so fun, so Jan.

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  11. Rest in peace Jan, you will be missed, and remembered by the many people whose lives you touched.

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  12. A Seattleite of inimitable style, all who knew her will miss her particular wry spark, her wonderful sense of fashion and her infectious, gravely laugh. More than just a lover of art, Jan was art. She not only hung it on walls and infused her work with it, she clothed and bejeweled herself with it. What a privilege to have known and worked with her for so many years. I wish there had been more.

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  13. I always looked forward to seeing the listings Jan staged. Every little detail was just perfect. She was quite talented and also fun. She will be missed.

    Carolyn Mollot

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  14. Pamela Ellis, Ellis DesignOctober 1, 2010 at 8:20 AM

    Jan was indeed held in high esteem among stagers throughout the Seattle area, when I first became interested in staging, she graciously took time to meet with me, I will never forget how open, warm and generous she was with her advice and guidance. Her talent and professionalism has taken staging to it's highest level and has set an example to all of us in the industry.

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  15. Jan was a true innovator - the standard for staging in the Seattle market. I have always admired her, and she will be missed.

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  16. Jan's inimitable style was matched by her genuineness and graciousness. She meant a lot to me personally and professionally. She brightened my world and her absence leaves a void. Her combination of art and design into a successful business is what I aspire to.

    Janet Tupper

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  17. Jan's aestheticism infused her work and her life. In a city that downplays fashion, Jan's gorgeous style and creative, vital personality infected all of us who had the pleasure of knowing and working with her. This week, Seattle lost a bright light. We love and miss you, Jan.

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  18. Jan was an inspiration to all of us. She always had a big smile on her face... even when she was "all business". She revolutionized staging for our industry and she will always hold a very dear spot in my heart. I will miss you Jan.

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  19. If you would like to share your thoughts, memories and remembrances, please join our Facebook page "Friends of Jan Sewell". We will be posting information there regarding plans for a celebration of Jan's life.

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  20. Jan was an inspiration and I am deeply shocked by her death. I had only known Jan since April 2010, but she had become a great and trusted friend. Stefan and I will miss her SO much. She was artistic, kind, spiritual, wise (beyond her years)and fun. Seattle will not be the same without her and her sense of humor and style. I had dinner with Jan on the Friday night before her death and I cannot believe she is no longer with us. Jan, rest in peace. We love you and miss you. Roz and Stefan xx

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  21. I loved how we could be arguing about what color something was one minute and talking about Eastern mysticism the next. Jan has been like family to me for years and I am only now beginning to wrap my head around the hole she will leave in my life. She has been so supportive of my art for so long and I am proud to have pieces hanging in her house among some of Seattle's finest artists. Her distinctive laugh will echo in my head for a long time I'm sure. She could see things in me that I could barely see myself and that was the best gift. Jan, you will be so missed and so well remembered.

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