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BEVERLY HILLS — Warm, welcoming, unassuming, pit bull — all fitting words to describe Janet Masaoy.
As the founder of COST (Citizens Opposed to the Suncoast Tollway), she fought tirelessly against the tollway — she refused to call it a “parkway” — but always with weapons of kindness and civility. And tenacity.
Although she was never in your face, she didn’t back down, didn’t give up. Even her opponents admired her for her persistence.
“When I was on the board (of county commissioners), I was a proponent of the Suncoast Parkway and she was the No. 1 opponent,” Josh Wooten said. “But she always delivered her message in a respectful way. She let others have their opinions while standing up for what she believed in.
“It takes all types to make up a community,” Wooten said, “and she was certainly someone who loved this community.”
Janet F. Masaoy died Jan. 25. She was 76.
“She was an unlikely warrior,” said friend and fellow crusader Teddi Rusnak. “She was a sweet grandmotherly looking woman who looked like she could be serving you warm chocolate cookies — and she often did at our COST meetings — at the same time she could eviscerate someone in FDOT and the Florida Turnpike Enterprise, but always with kindness. She was totally against angry confrontation.
“She demanded of the people who made up the inner core of COST that we always be honest and truthful in our dealings with the ‘other side.’ Her philosophy was, you needed to fight the issues with facts — and persistence, always persistence — but with civility. From that, I have the utmost respect for her and her leadership philosophy,” Rusnak said.
After a career as a teacher and a house cleaner in Carlisle, Mass., Janet and her late husband, Jose, retired and moved to a home in Pine Ridge in the early 1990s.
Janet began tutoring students in her home and her husband sang in a Hawaiian music band.
Then she heard about the parkway project and the proposed alignment that would go past the Pine Ridge entrance off County Road 486, which was less than a mile from her home.
Even after that part of the project was changed and no longer affected her personally, Masaoy took up the cause for all the people the parkway would affect.
“Her fight was based on the principle that if this goes through, then so many people’s homes and communities would be destroyed, or the alternative, it would go through environmentally sensitive and protected lands owned by the public,” Rusnak said.
“I remember the day I met her,” Theresa Waldron said . “I had just read the paper about the parkway, and I was concerned because my property was in the pathway and she invited me to her home. I went there and she showed me maps and exactly where my house was. She hugged me and we cried together. She was my friend ever since.”
Janet was known for her piles of files, charts and maps.
“When she stood up and started rattling off information, she was like an encyclopedia,” Bob Bennett said, “but she did not know how to run a computer and was scared to death of them. And she was always out of the house, always on the go. So, among those of us who were involved with her in COST and other organizations, if we wanted to get some information to her, she didn’t use email so we’d use ‘Janet’s bunny.’ She kept a ceramic bunny on a white table on her porch and you’d put your envelope under the bunny. Oh, the things that bunny knew!”
Her friends described her as a sweetheart, a fun person, always a lady. She was a homebody; she loved to bake. She loved native plants and being organized, keeping her house clean and spotless and shiny.
She was straightforward, an open book. She didn’t play politics and had no hidden agenda. She was trusting and accepted people at face value, Rusnak said.
She deeply loved her husband and was devastated when he died a few years ago.
“She was a small-town hero and a great woman,” Waldron said. “She loved everybody, and as far as I know everybody loved her.”
Chronicle reporter Nancy Kennedy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 352-564-2927.
* A service of remembrance for Janet Masaoy will be at 2 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 31, at the Nature Coast Unitarian
Universalist Fellowship, 7633 N. Florida Ave., Citrus Springs.