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.
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.”
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.”