Whenever I mention Janet Newcomb to anyone who has met her, one word always comes up: “Nice.”
Newcomb believes she’s considered “nice” because she grew up with traditional Midwestern values.
“I don’t even really think about it,” Newcomb says. “It’s so embedded in me: ‘Be a lady.’ ‘Say thank you.’ ‘Remember to pat people on the back.’ It’s just who I am. I want everybody to be happy.”
Raised in Grosse Pointe, Mich., Newcomb graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in psychology.
“It interested me,” she says. “I got married to my first husband and went to Washington, D.C. I got a job there with a defense contractor who was doing psychological warfare research.”
Newcomb’s job later moved her to Los Angeles ,where she completed a master’s degree at Pepperdine University. She met her second husband, Don, and they married in Hawaii. Newcomb moved to the desert from Los Angeles after Don was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
“Some friends had retired here,” says Newcomb, “so we decided to come down and settle.” Don died in 1990.
“When I decided to stay in the desert after my husband’s death,” she says, “I needed a job.”
Newcomb opened Siena, a shop in Indian Wells selling specialty Italian cookware.
“For about a year and a half, it was great—but then the recession hit, and people weren’t buying expensive cookware. My friend, Gayl Biondi, told me I should do public relations. By then, I had made a lot of friends, so that was the incentive that sent me in that direction.”
For more than two decades, Newcomb has been representing local businesses—specializing in restaurants.
“My passion was always cooking and eating,” Newcomb says, “and I especially like to support local family-operated businesses.”
Newcomb’s father had been a columnist for a local newspaper while she was growing up. “His column was called, ‘I’m Telling You,’” she says. “It was kind of a social column.” It’s no surprise, then, that Newcomb became society editor for Palm Springs Life magazine, covering fundraisers across the Coachella Valley for more than five years.
“I’m very curious about things,” says Newcomb. “I’m interested in what’s going on in life. I like people, and there are so many interesting people, especially in the local charity world.”
I first met Janet Newcomb when she was doing a live weekend show called Walking on Eggs at the same radio station where I work.
“Food wasn’t getting much attention,” says Newcomb, “so I thought it would be fun. I had guests and talked about local agriculture. People could call in, and I tried to always make it informative. People just cook and eat, but I think hearing about how others do it is interesting.”
Newcomb’s relationship to local charities has not been restricted only to writing about them. She served as president of the board of Shelter From the Storm; she was involved with the World Affairs Council of the Desert, a local group that focuses on international issues. She is currently a member of the Roar Foundation, actress Tippi Hedren’s big-cat rescue organization, and is a board member of the Cal State-San Bernardino Palm Desert University Associates, working to raise money for student scholarships.
Newcomb and I have the same manicurist, Paula Vaughn, who describes Janet as “warm, always with a smile. She’s one of the most humble people I’ve ever known. Be sure to ask her about the ballet and fencing.”
“Coming from a family with a history of heart disease, I’ve always been interested in health and exercise,” Newcomb says. “When I was a young girl, my mom insisted my sister and I take ballet lessons. I did ballet in D.C. just for the exercise. Then, when I was transferred to L.A., I went back to ballet again with a small company. I even had a couple of times onstage!”
“When I came down to the desert,” says Newcomb, “I met Leslie Taft, the fencing coach at College of the Desert, who has the Desert Fencing Academy in Palm Desert. It’s great exercise for coordination and balance, plus it’s aerobic. But it’s very tricky; you have to train your body to be alert so you don’t get stabbed!”
What’s next for this active woman? “I’m still doing some PR work, especially for restaurants,” says Newcomb, “but I’m definitely slowing down. I look back and think about my life and what it means to mature. In my 30s, there was always competition. In my 50s, I had enough experience to have calmed down and just be who I was.
“Now, I’ve mellowed. I don’t see any point in ever saying anything bad about anybody. Everybody’s doing the best they can with what they have. I’m not God; I can’t change you. You are who you are. Like me, or don’t like me—it’s your problem, not mine.”
Pattie Daly Caruso (yes, she’s Carson’s mom) is one of Newcomb’s closest friends.
“There are so many incredible things about her,” says Caruso. “Janet is one of the most special people I’ve ever met. She’s been warm and wonderful from the beginning of a friendship that began decades ago. The word ‘awesome’ is so overused, but it applies to her. She’s loyal, genuine, interesting and interested. I feel blessed to have known her!
“And she’s definitely nice.”
Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at Anita@LovableLiberal.com. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.