By Carol Masshardt
Janet Happnie, the Traffic Supervisor (aka Crossing Guard) on the corner of P. and Broadway knows a thing or two about getting people where they are going and doing it safely. She is a retired railroad conductor with over twenty years’ experience and now has been in her post-retirement perch for the past six years. “You know, All Aboard,” she said explaining her rail work directing, engaging, and welcoming travelers in a job she held when women were a clear minority.
An “oldest daughter,” growing up in Dorchester and living in South Boston for the past thirty years, the opportunities of her older brother were on her radar. “He’s a police officer and I have to say I would have liked to have done that,” she said. There is little question that she would have been effective and fair, but in fact, her current role combines the skill and focus common in all public safety.
“So, I retired from the railroad, and I was bored out of my mind. I looked on the City of Boston website, applied and it came together. I had the training in how to take charge of things,” she said. Not new to children with a daughter and two grandsons, Janet Happnie, watches out for the school children and parents every morning and afternoon with natural competence and a practical unshowy delight.
How does she do it in winter with those familiar inches of frozen slush and winds howling up Broadway from Pleasure Bay? “Oh, it’s not so bad or so long. This is about the children. I see their faces, and they are so polite, and it is catching!” she said. It seems the positive goes both ways. On a recent day, she wished all the children a good day, and many, including very young children, wished her the same.
Standing on any South Boston Street any time of day has it challenges with not only dashing children but sauntering pre-occupied adults, and enough dogs to create a parade. But Janet Happnie does not seem anxious navigating it all from the middle of the street with a mere stop sign.
“I am invincible,” she said, and was only half joking. “Maybe foolishly, I think no harm can come my way.” She stands firmly in the middle of the intersection with her sign and eyes on both children, parents and traffic, adept at communicating order while observing the flow of traffic. She explains it as follows. “I am a city girl through and through, and I am being helpful, and I see things, and I am here for a reason.” She doesn’t blink at nonsense common on any city street but is “stunned” by how appreciated she is. “The parents say thank you for keeping our children safe. It’s wild,” she said softly.
Unlike suburban schools with large circular driveways, children who use South Boston intersections walk to school at South Boston Catholic Academy, or other area schools, and her presence is integral to the days beginning and ending.
“It’s not just about safety, though that she does well, but it’s a friendly face on cold windy days,” said Sarah Cohen, mother of Isabelle and Teddy.
And nanny, Molly Argus, has a perspective about the drivers. “There is a disconnect when you drive here,” she said. “I know, I am pretty young myself, and you don’t even know there is a school here. You can just fly up this street. They do not even know they are expected to stop. They aren’t looking to hurt anyone but are unaware. Janet really helps because it is clear,” she said.
Public relations would not be Ms. Janet’s (as she is called) prime motivation. She is just too sensible and hard working to focus on perception, but when visiting relatives come to South Boston, they notice more than parking woes and prices.
Nan and Ed Margia, visiting their daughter, Janna, walk the route whenever they visit from Florida. “It isn’t just for the kids. Janet is terrific. She starts the day with the parents feeling supported, too. She is a delight,” they said.
Janet Happnie has no need to shine but she does. She could easily be sleeping late and doing anything else she desires after a long work life. But, as effortlessly as she directs several chatting adults away from on-coming traffic, she summarizes the meaning many try to achieve at every age. “It gives me purpose and it makes me happy,” she said.