Dr. Janice Elaine Gross Wells, age 75, of Chapel Hill, died Wednesday, December 30, 2020, at the UNC SECU Jim & Betsy Bryan Hospice Home in Pittsboro, NC. She was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer on Monday, November 2, 2020. Janice was pleased to take part, briefly, in a clinical trial at UNC Cancer Hospital before her death. An ardent follower of Christ and supporter of civic engagement on myriad levels, she wanted her experience with pancreatic cancer to light the path for future patients - a theme that resounds throughout her life.
Janice was born in Tucson, Arizona on June 29, 1945, to the late Worth Howard Gross and Ruth Lowman Gross, both originally from Catawba County, N.C. Although her father’s career with the United States Air Force often moved his family around the country, they finally settled in Goldsboro, N.C., where Janice graduated high school in 1963. The first person in her family to attend college, she selected the Woman’s College of the University of North Carolina (now UNC Greensboro) where she majored in Sociology. Shortly after graduating, Janice continued her studies at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, where she received her Master’s degree in Social Work. There, she met her sweetheart of nearly 52 years, her husband Bruce Wells of Durham, NC.
For him, it was love at first sight. Ever the pragmatist, Janice fell in love with Bruce a tad more slowly. They bonded over shared beliefs like desegregating the South, giving ex-prisoners greater access to jobs, and education reform in low-income communities. They marched, they protested, they were threatened with guns. One chilly January evening in 1969, after five whole months of dating, Bruce and Janice got hitched at a potluck supper in Carrboro.
In the mid-’70s, they came to know Jesus. Their new lives as followers of Christ supported their existing passion for social justice and economic reform. Janice saw the opportunity to live the gospel through her gift of hospitality, opening her home and creating feasts for strangers, friends of friends, and of course, family. Her career as a social worker provided ample space to live her faith as well. In the early days of the AIDS crisis, Janice held hands with the dying when doctors wouldn’t enter patients’ rooms for fear of catching the virus.
While living in Tallahassee to pursue her Ph.D. at Florida State University, Janice developed relationships with international students, sharing weekends and holidays with young people curious to know more about American families. Whether or not the students were aware of it, Janice’s mission was to show God’s love through this kindness. She pursued God intentionally throughout her life, and the fruits of this relationship blessed multitudes around the world.
Over their five decades together Janice and Bruce moved more than 10 times, living in New York State, the Southeast, Midwest, and finally Chapel Hill. Janice taught at multiple universities including the University of Alabama, Wheaton College, Winthrop University, and North Carolina State University, where she ended her career as the Director of the Graduate Program in Social Work. She led Bible studies, actively participated in prayer groups and volunteered with a variety of nonprofits including the National Association of Social Workers, Abundant Joy, Samaritan Health Center, and the Patient Advisory Committee of UNC Family Medicine.
An activist through her final seasons, she and Bruce drove to Washington, DC in 2018 to participate in the March for Our Lives, a student-led demonstration in support of gun control legislation, where, at 73, she held a handwritten sign that said, “N.C. Grandparents for Safe Schools”. Prior to her diagnosis, she spent August 2020 knocking on doors as a Census taker, a job she described as a bucket-list item.
Surviving relatives include her husband, Bruce Wells of Chapel Hill; daughter Jennifer McCort and husband Cory McCort of Portland, OR; daughter Amanda Miller and husband Kevin Miller of Chapel Hill; grandchildren Leland McCort, Natalie McCort, Megan Miller, and Alyssa Miller; great-granddaughter Cadence Dean McCort; brothers Harold Gross and Gary Gross and sister Linda Newsome; as well as her in-laws and their five children.
In accordance with state and national protocols, an in-person memorial service will take place in Durham at Church of the Good Shepherd at a later time. The family will host a Zoom memorial in January. Condolences may be offered at www.donaldsonfunerals.com, where details regarding how to join the online event are also available.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks for contributions to be made in Janice’s memory to Samaritan Health Center P.O. Box 51339 Durham, NC 27717.
Donaldson Funeral Home & Crematory is honored to serve the Wells family.
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Samaritan Health Center
P.O. Box 51339, Durham NC 27717