Jane E. Alexander Print E-mail

Jane Alexander

“A stunning citizen of the world”

Jane Alexander passed away suddenly at Lowell General Hospital on July 26 from mitral valve prolapse, causing MRSA endocarditis. She was 66 years old.

Jane was born in Brookings, SD, to Ruth and William Alexander. She graduated from Brookings High School in 1974. During high school she babysat for several families and volunteered at United Retirement center.

She attended Mt. Holyoke College, majoring in history, and doing volunteer work as a tutor and aide to children in the Holyoke Schools.

Following graduation from college in 1980, she worked at Parker Street shelter with unhoused adults in Boston, and the Pine Street Inn women’s clinic. There she saw women leave at 9AM when the overnight shelter closed with nowhere to go until 4PM when it reopened. These women avoided the daytime soup kitchens where they would be harassed (or worse) by men. They had nowhere to use a restroom. Most of all, these women were isolated, having lost connections with friends and family.

She and a co-worker at the women’s clinic, Eileen Reilly conceived of starting a daytime shelter for women. In 1982, they began serving women from the basement of Church of the Covenant, starting the Women’s Lunch Place.

Jane became the Executive Director for the next 20 years. She insisted on a philosophy of treating unhoused women with dignity, bringing plates to the table so they did not have to wait in line. Guests were also welcome to help cook, and volunteers and staff all sat down to share the meal. Fresh flowers and tablecloths always graced the dining room. She worked to create a community with celebrations, live music, and activities, such as visiting a sheep farm during lambing season. Eventually the program came to serve breakfast and lunch to over 100 women a day, offering legal advocacy, clothing, a children’s rooms, showers, laundry and much more. Jane’s drive and vision inspired and changed the lives of hundreds if not thousands of people who spent time in the Women’s Lunch Place’s bustling kitchen and warm, welcoming dining room over the years.

Jane received many awards for her work, including the Mount Holyoke College Mary Lyon Award and the Boston Celtic’s “Heroes Among Us” award. What Jane was most proud of, however, was creating a place where women like Stella and Margot–some of Boston’s most alienated and long-term unhoused women–felt safe to come inside.

Jane left the organization in 2002, and worked briefly as Renewal House Executive Director, and as Development Director at East Boston Ecumenical Community, and volunteered for the Red Cross after Hurricane Katrina and did medical work in Haiti.

She married Mark Johnson of Jamaica Plain in 2004. They moved to New Orleans in 2007, where she attended Tulane School of Social Work, obtaining her Master’s in Social Work. She then worked in Moorhead, Minnesota until 2016 as Executive Director of Churches United, a family shelter and daytime support program for the homeless. There she spearheaded an effort to create permanent housing and provided winter expansion regularly at the shelter. She and Mark separated in 2016 but remained good friends until his passing in 2018.

Along the way Jane cared for numerous great aunts, aunts and uncles as they aged, and as a godmother to several friend’s children. She maintained close friendships across long distances and over many years. She also became well known for her cakes that graced many of her friends’ tables, her toffee and “ginger dogs” that she made every Christmas.

She returned to Massachusetts to Dracut, MA 2016, where she lived with her sister Sarah Alexander. She worked for multiple families as a caretaker of elderly gentlemen and women for the past five years, helping them attend weddings, see friends, write their memoirs, and making their lives more connected and organized. She developed a close relationship with Paul Phillips in the last two years of her life, which brought her much happiness.

Relatives and friends are invited to attend her visitation on Thursday August 4, 2022, at the O’DONNELL FUNERAL HOME  276 PAWTUCKET ST. in LOWELL from 4 to 7 P.M.

Her Funeral service will be held on Saturday August 27, 2022, at FRIENDS MEETING AT CAMBRIDGE.  5 Longfellow Park, Cambridge, MA 02138 at 1:00 o’clock. E-condolences/directions at www.odonnellfuneralhome.com. Those wishing may make contributions in her memory to Health Care without Walls at www.healthcarewithoutwalls.org, mailing address: 41 West Street, Boston, MA 02111. Arrangements by Funeral Director James F. O’Donnell, Jr. (978) 458-8768.

Condolences (10)
  • Terry Stoll  - Message to family
    So sorry to hear of Jane's passing. I worked with her at Churches United for the Homeless and have been keeping in touch with her periodically. I tried calling her today and found her number out of service so it was a surprise when I did a search and her obituary came up. Jane was a wonderful boss and leader and demonstrated how we should treat each other through example without respect of person.
  • Melinda Gale  - Sarah Alexander
    What an unexpected blow, as I was trying to find a current address or phone number for Jane. She was a good friend and an absolute inspiration to so many people. She loved and took care of her own family members in many ways over the years. In the stress of moving from Jamaica Plains, she disappeared one day, and when she came back she had an enormous amount of food which she happily turned into a delicious meal. Food was love, and The Women's Lunch Place was Jane's way to help and support unhoused women who had few safe places where they could go to rest and eat, take a shower and do laundry. Few people could match her persistence in helping others--or her joy in doing it.
  • Katrina Van Valkenburgh  - Jane Was An Inspiration
    Jane taught me so much during my time working with her at the Women’s Lunch Place. A time of much joy and sadness. She was so funny and so focused on the women and I felt her light shine on me in the same way it shined on the women we served. She taught me about accepting people as they are and valuing them for their humanity and their struggles. The Women’s Lunch Place accepted women as they came and loved them for it. I remember how Stella, who lived outside on the street, would come in every morning at breakfast, smiling a smile as wide as the sun, and then would go to the bathroom and curse and yell and scream while she bathed at the sink, looking at herself in the mirror. One day a new woman was in the dining room and she got really scared, hearing Stella screaming with such anger and fury and one of the other women said, “oh don’t worry, that is just Stella”. Stella was kicked out of other shelters because people were scared of her, but at the Women’s Lunch Place she was known. Jane created a haven for women to be who they were, to be safe, to be honored and to be loved. She was a force in the world, such a singular figure and an inspiration and definition of what it means to serve others. I loved that her passion wasn’t rooted in pity or religion but was rooted in love. So much of my life has been touched by her influence from the importance of cooking beautiful food to the shape of my work. I lost touch with Jane over the years since I moved to Chicago, but I thought of her often. My heart goes out to Sarah and Andy. I'm so sorry for your loss. Your sister was an amazing woman. A star shining bright and an inspiration to so many.
  • Betsy Morgan Gibson
    I couldn't believe I was seeing an obituary for Jane in today's Boston Globe. I first met her when we were across-the-hall neighbors in the basement of North Rockefeller dorm at Mt. Holyoke in the fall of 1974. Though we lost touch particularly when she moved south, I still recall with great fondness the person she was, the things we experienced together (one was the elaborate lunch we fixed in a borrowed kitchen for her visiting aunts), and her great accomplishments at The Women's Lunch Place. I wish I had known that she had moved back to the Boston area and I regret that I learned too late of her passing to attend her memorial. I will always remember her good heart and her very wry sense of humor. My sincere condolences to Sarah and Andy.
  • David Roden  - Message to Family
    I am shocked and so sorry to hear the sad news of Jane's passing. Sarah and Andy had the best sister in Jane. I was the naughty next door neighbor boy that was lucky enough to have Jane babysit. It is so sad when someone so young goes so early. Not sure if Sarah and Andy knows, but Mrs. Groethe from across 3rd street passed away recently. My sympathies to the family.
  • Judy morgan
    I am sending my condolences to Sarah and Andy. I can’t imagine how they are coping with their sister’s passing. Jane was a remarkable woman. Truly a citizen of the world. She was always there to help the forgotten, neglected people. She touched so many. I will miss her so much.
    Jane made a difference - not in the whole world- but in individual people's lives - where it really counted.rBj
  • M. Westropp
    My deepest condolences to Sarah, Andy, and all other family members. There could only ever have been one Jane Alexander, & I'm not sure how those who hold her beloved can navigate this loss. Getting to know Sarah, I also chanced to meet Jane & would not have missed that blessing for anything. Jane led by example and was a treasure in ways everyone who knew her can testify.
  • Alfred and Deanna Rude
    Jane was a wonderful person. We have fond memories of her. Our thoughts and prayers are with your family.
  • Joan Nelson  - Message to Family
    Oh my goodness! Tears are running after reading this! She was truly an amazing woman and I am honored to have known her! My sympathies to the family!
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