Monday , December 21, 2015 - 5:52 PM
It’s the most any of us could hope for, really. Leaving this world just a little bit better than we found it.
On Sunday, Dec. 20, Jennifer Pratt Thorpe realized that hope, and her family now vows to continue her quest.
The North Ogden woman, who leaves a legacy of service, kindness and love, died at home Sunday evening, following a nearly three-year battle with cancer. She was 45.
In the early morning hours of Dec. 21, Greg Thorpe posted the news of his wife’s death to a public Facebook group called “Focused Faith with the Thorpe Family.” In a testament to the number of lives Jennifer Thorpe had touched throughout her life, within just a few hours the post had generated more than 500 likes and 200 comments.
Thorpe was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer in April 2013, but friends say she refused to allow the cancer to slow her down. Just recently, as sick as she had been, Thorpe and her husband started the nonprofit organization JUST-a-BREAK, which offers all-expenses-paid experiences — from an evening out, to a weekend getaway — for patients with advanced-stage cancer. Funded by local businesses, donors and volunteers, and administered through local hospitals and cancer centers, the idea is to give families a break “from the ongoing emotional worries and financial toll of living with cancer.” The organization currently serves the Ogden, Salt Lake City and St. George areas, but plans are to expand to Logan and Provo, as well as to the Chicago, New Orleans and Las Vegas areas.
“We’re getting calls, literally, from all over the nation right now, and two or three have said this is the next Make-A-Wish Foundation, but reversed,” Greg Thorpe said in a brief interview two days before his wife’s death. “Instead of saying ‘Yes’ to one and ‘No’ to thousands, you’re trying to say ‘Yes’ to thousands —with each community supporting their own cancer facility with JUST-a-BREAK.”
Jennifer Pratt Thorpe was born April 27, 1970, in Ogden, to David and Carol Pratt. A graduate of Davis High School, she earned her bachelor’s degree in communication from Weber State University, with an emphasis in public relations. She began working at the Standard-Examiner in 1988, and spent more than two decades in marketing and other departments at the newspaper. Thorpe left the paper in 2013.
In remembering her, friends paint a picture of a woman with a “huge heart.”
Jenny Tanner, of Pleasant View, calls Thorpe her best friend. The two had a bond that Tanner will cherish for the rest of her life.
“She has an incredible talent of making every person she meets feel important, and of worth,” Tanner said of Thorpe. “She has a light that people are just naturally drawn to.”
Tanner praised her friend’s listening skills, as well as her comforting advice.
“Through her cancer journey, I have watched as she inspires thousands with her strength, faith and grace,” Tanner wrote in an email interview. “She is changing lives — inspiring people to be better, to help others, to look on the bright side, to be grateful for ALL things, to have faith in God and to be happy.”
Cami Roberts worked alongside Thorpe for 10 years in the Standard-Examiner’s marketing department. Indeed, the two were so close (even sharing the same birthday) that some co-workers took to calling them by a single name, “Camifer” — a blending of “Cami” and “Jennifer.”
“We were such a great team, and got to be super-close,” Roberts recalls. “To have this happen is a hard thing.”
Roberts said Greg Thorpe has been an incredible strength throughout the ordeal.
“He’s always known it’ll be OK, no matter what happens,” she said.
Another friend and former co-worker, Jayne Dunn, said Greg Thorpe always “doted” on his wife — once even asking Dunn for step-by-step written directions for making Sunday dinners, so he could give his wife a little break on Sundays.
“I used to go home all the time and say to (my husband) Steve, ‘Greg did this for Jen,’ ” Dunn recalls with a laugh. “And he’d say, ‘Oh. Good for him.’ ”
Dunn says her friend was always looking on the bright side.
“She always had the ‘glads’ — ‘I’m glad for this,’ ‘I’m grateful for that,’ ‘We’ll get through it,’ ” Dunn said.
And Thorpe was just plain fun to be around.
“She was always full of thank yous, and always happy,” Dunn said. “Very rarely would she get mad, and it kind of scared you when she did get upset — because it almost never happened.”
Lynda Blanch, another friend and former co-worker, considers herself blessed to have gotten to know the Thorpe family. Her emotions too raw to talk about her friend, Blanch wrote down a few of her feelings.
“To see how Jen, and all of her family, have gone through this journey, I just feel like I am lucky to be a part of what is happening here,” Blanch wrote. “They have all touched so many people.”
Last week, the family had worried that Thorpe would be too sick to return home from the hospital, but she rallied, and they were able to place her on hospice at home — the same hospice company that Jennifer Thorpe had worked for in recent years.
“After leaving the newspaper, she ended up working for the home health hospice that’s blessing her now,” Greg Thorpe said on Friday. “They hired her to be their marketing director, and she loves them, and those gals are in our home right now to love her back.”
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Toward the end, Thorpe was able to visit with her children, and smile at them, according to her husband.
“So we’re seeing miracle after miracle, and we’re just enjoying every minute of every day with her,” he said on Friday.
Greg Thorpe praised his wife’s strength to the end.
“We’re realizing now, talking to her doctor, she’s been way more sick than we’ve realized,” he said. “But she’s had this reserve of energy that she has channeled for family things.”
Despite the sickness and pain, Thorpe always found the strength to be there for her family.
“Our daughter’s dance recitals, our son’s mission farewell and homecoming — it’s like she knows that it’s never been about her,” Greg Thorpe says. “She rises to the occasion for her family.”
Their oldest son, Tyler, left on an LDS mission to the Philippines just after Thorpe’s initial cancer diagnosis. He returned in July. Their younger son, Matthew, left for missionary service in California three months ago. His mission president recently gave him permission to fly home for a few days to be with the family. Daughter Allie is currently in the ninth grade.
Greg Thorpe, who teaches at the LDS Institute at Weber State University, says the family will now try to honor those things that his wife has been passionate about — including growing the JUST-a-BREAK organization.
And Jenny Tanner says her friend taught her an extremely important lesson about living life to the fullest.
“Long before the cancer, Jen was a seize-the-day kind of girl,” Tanner said. “She never put anything off, and she taught me to do the same.”
Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @Saalman. Like him on Facebook at facebook.com/SEMarkSaal.
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