At home in Hyattsville: Janet Griffin, from her front porch
By Reva G. Harris
May 3 marked the 38th anniversary of Janet and Christopher Griffin’s move to Hyattsville. I sat outside with Janet to begin what I hope will become the first in a series of profiles of long-time Hyattsville residents.
Janet’s front porch is lined with a swing and several wicker chairs that seem to beckon neighbors to stop for a chat. I was invited to try out the swing before we began discussing life in Hyattsville and her plans since retiring, in March, as artistic producer and director of programming at the Folger Shakespeare Library.
Born in Mississippi, Janet attended Rhodes College in Memphis, Tenn. In 1975, she headed to Dublin, Ireland, for a master’s program in Irish literature at University College, where she met Christopher, an Irish native. Janet and Christopher were married in 1981 after he immigrated to the U.S. to further his studies.
Janet began her career at the Folger in 1977. O.B. Hardison, then director of the Folger and now namesake of its preeminent poetry series, hired her. In 1983, Elizabeth Pearson, Janet’s friend and colleague, told her about a house for sale near where Pearson lived in Hyattsville.
“It’s in a great location — well positioned, near the city — just a 6-mile drive from my house to the Folger,” said Janet. Moving day sounded fun, with the Griffins sharing a moving company with another Folger couple, the Mowerys, who were also relocating from Capitol Hill to Hyattsville.
Janet noted that they have had many of the same neighbors for over 30 years. “We have a lot of really good neighbors. One month after we moved to Hyattsville, John Sheridan and Sue Slotnick moved across the street,” she said. “My parents always said that we could never move anywhere else because we couldn’t get along without generous John, Mr. Fix-it.” Janet connected with other neighbors through community gardening and activities of the Hyattsville Preservation Association.
“I believed in my job,” Janet said. “It was a joy. At the Folger, we focus on many writers, but Shakespeare is what we chiefly brought to the stage. His work is alive and relevant. It still stands.”
This year, Janet led a virtual discussion, hosted by Hyattsville Aging in Place, about a filmed “Macbeth” she produced. “‘Macbeth’ is a play almost everyone can enjoy,” she said. “The ambition and power in that play are absolutely relevant.”
Janet reminisced about some of the changes that have come to Hyattsville in her 38 years of residency. She remembers Hyattsville Hardware, still a landmark now as Franklins Restaurant, Brewery and General Store. “I like how Mike [Franklin] kept a lot of the feeling of the hardware store. I don’t know what would have happened to the building if someone else had bought it.”
Another change Janet sees are the many young families in Hyattsville. “We were in the first round of raising children here,” she said. “Our daughter attended area public schools through high school, and then the University of Maryland. We found the wonderful Starting Point [dance school] in College Park, and Deirdre started dancing at age 2. When she attended Eleanor Roosevelt High School, she was released at 12:30 p.m. each day to go to the Washington Ballet. We looked at private schools near the ballet studio, but we are glad she stayed with the science education available at Eleanor Roosevelt. Deirdre not only had a dance career but is now a soil scientist teaching at Washington State University.”
“Since retiring, I’m trying to change my focus,” Janet announced. “Right now, I am enjoying time to choose what I want to do.”
The Griffins love to visit the National Arboretum and the Riversdale Garden, and Janet continues to think about retirement activities. “I hope to find time to paint. Maybe I’ll take a few classes,” she mused.
“Also, I’ve had a community garden plot for the last five years or so. It’s fun to meet interesting people in the process of growing food. The garden plots are a community effort,” she explained. “Studies show that for overall health and well-being, having community is important. Most towns don’t have community. Hyattsville does. It’s a great feeling to know that I can knock on my neighbors’ doors to ask for help or to chat. Plus, the porches in Hyattsville are great.”