Former Sen. Harold Janeway sought to calm the waters

  • A photo of Harold Janeway by the rock in the field on his and Betsy’s farm in Webster. He is now buried by this rock. Courtesy of the Janeway family

  • Betsy Janeway and her husband, Harold, donated 477 acres, including their home, to the Concord-based Five Rivers Conservation Trust. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor columnist
Published: 8/25/2020 5:34:42 PM

Harold Janeway of Webster died from cancer on Aug. 20 at the age of 84.

Sad, yes, but at least the former State Senator has been spared this month’s conventions that gave us, officially, our final match-up for president.

Maybe now – minus the political crack the size of the 477 acres Harold and his wife donated to a conservation trust – he can rest in peace.

“You may have something there,” said Willie Janeway, one of Harold and Betsy’s five children. “He was not a politician. Politics disgusted him, but he was dedicated to service.”

Harold had a strong supply of olive branches to offer, trying to blend ideas from both sides of the aisle, create a more perfect union, if you will. He left us as a fiscal conservative with liberal social views. No one loved the preservation of the state’s natural beauty more than Janeway.

He was a Republican, before he was an independent. He was a Democrat after that. He was an investment banker in New York City before he began farming in Webster, and well before first seeking office in the state Senate in 2006.

“He was a mixture,” said Sylvia Larsen, who served in the Senate for 20 years. “He had the Yankee tightness with money, but he also was a broad-minded social activist who invested in everything he believed in.

“Not everyone follows a straight line, and he did not follow any line,” Larsen continued. “He was unique and we were blessed to have him. He was kind and calm.”

Which was hard to do after Janeway graduated from Yale and turned to investment banking in New York City. He and Betsy lived in upscale Westchester County.

Before that, though, 9-year-old Harold and his family had moved from Long Island, N.Y., to Vermont, and that’s where the boy learned his love for that life. Farming life. He and Betsy had a goat and some chickens in Westchester.

So when they saw a farm was for sale in Webster in 1978, they drove here to check it out. They sat on a giant rock and talked about their future. Later, the rock would come to be known as the Counsel Rock. Half of that counsel described what she saw when they pulled up to the farm 43 years ago.

“You can see the boulder from the road, it’s quite visible,” Betsy said. “Harold and I sat on it when we chose to buy it.”

Asked what she saw that day, Betsy said, “The Blackwater River and the trout lily was blooming with yellow and leaves speckled like on a trout. Harold wanted to be high for a view and I wanted enough room.”

Betsy said the house needed work and looked “sad.” Soon, Harold formed his own investment company in Concord. The couple raised five children.

They fixed the house and they built a farm and they’ve since added more land, including three-quarters of a mile along the Blackwater River, which flows into the Contoocook River. The land has forests and open areas.

The kids worked. And had fun. Betsy and her daughter, Nora, who’s now a doctor, battled to see who could produce the most goat’s milk.

They had a flock of sheep, and Betsy learned how to spin wool. They sold lamb to their friends, those willing to cut and wrap their own meat. They stocked up, storing it in their freezers.

Harold retired from investment banking in 2006. John Lynch, the governor at the time, asked Harold to run for the state Senate, Betsy said, and that’s when Harold became a registered Democrat, seeking a seat in the Legislature.

And in a perfect moment, seconds after he knocked on his first door during his first campaign for elected office, his distaste for the process was bolstered when the door opened and “a dog comes out and bites him on the ankle.” Betsy said.

Next, in a miracle of miracles, Harold refused to take the pledge. The one about promising never, ever, to support a state income tax.

He won, nevertheless.

“He just pulled it off,” Betsy said. “People trusted him.”

In the end, Harold’s left-leanings were obvious 15 years ago, when he openly supported civil unions and then gay marriage.

He dedicated his life to nonprofits, the Nature Conservancy, the Forest Society, the Northern Forest Center, the Appalachian Mountain Club and on and on.

He was most proud of working as Webster’s town moderator for 23 years. And he lived on 477 acres of land, a place for his kids to grow up and run and farm and appreciate conservation.

“He adopted New Hampshire,” Willie said, “and New Hampshire adopted him.”

Harold and Betsy finished the mountain of paperwork this summer, officially donating their land to the Concord-based Five Rivers Conservation Trust. The land will be preserved for nature, farming and possibly public use. Betsy will live there until she’s buried at Counsel Rock, beside Harold.

The family knew when the deal was sealed that Harold was dying from cancer. He had fallen from his bed and bruised his hip, and the ensuing examination showed cancer in his lungs and stomach.

He chose to spare his family and himself from pain. He chose not to seek treatment.

“He didn’t believe in intervention at the end of life,” said Roger Janeway, the oldest of the five children, who flew here from Los Angeles. “He thought it would cause pain and suffering and it may not have come to anything. He made the decision not to have the cancer investigated.”

Harold died seven weeks later. Shortly after the Democrats had started their attack and a few days before the Republicans began their counter offensive.

He enthusiastically supported the Biden-Harris ticket, but it’s probable that the heated rhetoric and hostile climate, created by both parties these days, would have bothered him.

“He was a wise soul,” Larsen said. “He gave so much to so many.”

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