Local dignitaries and family members gathered Saturday to remember a special person who Mayor Joseph Polisena declared “was the quintessential public servant.”
After the sudden April passing of Janice D. Mele, the mayor’s son – District 3 Town Councilman Joseph Polisena Jr. – suggested the library at Johnston High School be dedicated in her honor.
The mayor concurred and took all the necessary steps to make that happen.
“Janice was always hard-working, caring and compassionate and had a great sense of humor,” the mayor said. “Janice was a friend to all … compassion for all our students was her top priority.”
Polisena emceed a program that concluded with the unveiling of two signs – one over the entrance to the library and another that’s mounted on a wall behind the librarian’s desk that reads, “Janice D. Mele Memorial Library.”
“[She] was the rock of the School Committee,” Polisena said. “Always dedicating her time and energy ensuring that the children – no matter what their age – had the best education possible.”
The words printed on the plaque, which brought tears to the eyes of many town and school officials – especially her longtime School Committee sidekick Robert LaFazia – read, in part: “Honoring the unwavering dedication and commitment to the students in the town of Johnston.”
“When you think of Johnston, you think of Janice,” LaFazia said. “She was so compassionate, a loyal person who when she gave you her word you could take it to the bank. Janice meant a lot to everyone … she always gave her time to the town. I loved her and like everyone else here today, I miss her greatly.”
Superintendent of Johnston Schools Bernard DiLullo offered remarks as well, saying the dedication was a “fitting tribute” to Mele.
“Janice was an advocate for students and valued their learning opportunities,” DiLullo said. “She knew that education was a key to a successful future and wanted to ensure every student had a quality education. Janice was an integral member of our school community and her influence is greatly missed.”
“Janice is Johnston,” Town Council President Robert V. Russo said while addressing the crowd. “She embodied the compassion and drive found in the Johnston community. Janice was passionate in her roles as a wife, mother, grandparent and elected official. She was a wonderful wife to her late husband Jay, and since his passing whenever she spoke of him you would think he was in the room.”
Like LaFazia did during his brief yet moving remarks, Russo added: “Janice was loyal and when she gave you her word you didn’t have to ask again. There was no gray with Janice – it was always black or white. Whether you liked what her decision was or not, there were no surprises. Janice was an old-school politician in a modern world, and I miss that.”
Russo also recalled that Mele would bring her grandson, Landon, to meetings and functions as well.
And Landon, along with Mele’s daughters Alicia Mele Bendza and Amanda Mele, misses his “Mama” and thinks about her every day during his time at St. Thomas Regional School in North Providence where he is an eighth-grade student at the same institution where Mele used to work.
“I miss her all the time!” Landon exclaimed while remembering his many marvelous memories of Mele. “I used to go everywhere with her and I miss that. Even when I’m at school, I think about her and miss seeing her here.”
Polisena also recalled his time spent with Mele, fondly remembering the phone conversations they used to regularly have.
“I would be on the telephone with Janice every day,” the mayor noted. “She would call me or I would call her, sometimes just to check in and of course talk business about her second family, the Johnston School Department. We would often joke and I would say Janice, you are like the sister I never had. She then quipped: ‘Oh my, you as my brother?’”
The mayor then concluded the ceremony, offering a few more emotional words for a woman so many called a friend.
“We all truly love what she did for all and what she stood for; a woman with strong uncompromising integrity,” he said. “I’m sure that Janice and Jay are looking down upon us, smiling … let me say Janice, we love you and we miss you dearly.”