Everyone knew her as Nano. Nancy Osborn, age 42, died in her Ann Arbor home Sunday, in the arms of her husband, surrounded by family, after living with cancer for 10 years.
It’s hard to overstate the impact Nano had on everyone who knew her. A people-magnet, she lived with great generosity, humor, and mindfulness, and she thrived on sharing that exuberance with others. She was the kooky aunt, the creative friend, the kid sister, the loyal daughter, the considerate neighbor, the loving wife, the informed citizen. She found humor in much of life, including her cancer. The first time chemotherapy made most of her hair fall out, she pointed to the few remaining down-like tufts and cracked, “I look like a baby sparrow.”
Her passion for the environment rivaled her passion for the English language, and only the bravest took her on in Scrabble. Most importantly, during fifteen years of marriage Nano was the life co-pilot of John “JR” Roberts, whose deep love and constant support, particularly in the last 10 years, enriched Nano’s life beyond measure.
Together, Nano and JR transformed an ordinary lawn into a native-garden sanctuary, brimming with Michigan wildflowers and grasses. Nano, a Master Gardener, loved to show off their garden to guests, and they frequently offered it for events such as garden tours and friends’ weddings. Nano took immense delight in watching a hummingbird sip nectar from bee balm she’d planted just for that moment.
Always game for a good time, Nano and JR frequently threw open their 110-year-old home to family and friends. No matter how many people were around, Nano put others at ease in social settings and took genuine interest in their stories. Her least favorite question was, “What do you do (for a living)?”
Nano lived by her principles. She hunted down stylish fashions at used clothing stores, recycled regularly, made greeting cards instead of buying them, and walked and biked wherever she could until cancer made that impossible. She relished used things for their history; “new” held far less appeal.
Fed up with the cars barreling by her house, and concerned for the safety of nearby kids, Nano organized and succeeded in implementing the Brooks Street traffic-calming project, among the first of its kind in Ann Arbor. She also devoted hundreds of hours to peer counseling other women diagnosed with stage-four cancer, a support not commonly available 10 years ago. Many more hours were spent editing newsletters for local, environmental and political causes, including the Ecology Center, the ACLU, and the Master Gardener program. Nano supported WEMU and the Michigan Theater as well as locally produced plays, especially at the Performance Network and Ypsilanti’s Riverside Arts Center. She detested folk music.
Though she would screw up her nose to hear it, Nano gave courage and inspiration to others, even those she met only once. Among her greatest gifts was the guidance she gently gave those of us who loved her, who stood by helplessly, in dealing with her cancer. And without doubt Nano would have had something to say about the wording and punctuation of the preceding sentence.
The youngest of six, Nano grew up on West Ainsworth in Ypsilanti. Her strong alto voice provided the harmony for everything from “Happy Birthday” to carols. For years, the Osborns’ annual Christmas Crankdown featured lots of camaraderie, singing and the family’s homemade ice cream; Nano always did her share of the cranking. She kept her education local, earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism from EMU in 1986 and a master’s degree in natural resources and the environment from UM in 1993.
Nano’s favorite place was the Lake Michigan shore, where for years the extended Osborn family camped together for a week each summer. She credited her experiences as a church camp counselor for igniting her love of camping. She also relished canoe trips in the Canadian wilderness, snorkeling in the Caribbean, and dancing – any type, any time. One of her favorite recent trips was a pub and cathedral tour of small English towns.
She leaves behind many who loved her. The short list includes her family: husband JR of Ann Arbor; parents Carroll and Bonny, Ypsilanti; siblings John (Jean), Onsted; Charlotte, St. Paul, MN; Janet (Gregory), Ann Arbor; Tim (Vickie), Amherst, WI; and Joel (Sandy), Ypsilanti; step-daughter Sara (Todd) and granddaughter Fern, Fort Hill, PA; in-laws John and Dorma Roberts, Jan (Patrick) Rutty, Cathy (Lew) Trescott, Jerry (Katie) Roberts, and Gene Roberts; nieces and nephews Jack, Joel, Lindsey, Kees, Mark, Kelly, Tijl, Haan, Jeremiah, Kristin, Helen, Frankie, Andrew, Danielle, Kestin, Philip, Mickey, Natalie, Matthew, Jade, and Nina; kitties Nadine and Slim; and many, many friends, also part of Nano’s family.
Visitation will be 1 pm Saturday, Oct. 15, at First United Methodist Church, 209 Washtenaw Ave., Ypsilanti, between Washington and Adams streets. Services are at 2 pm, and an informal lunch will follow, with more time for visitation. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the FUMC Camp Fund, FUMC Organ Fund, or the National Breast Cancer Coalition.
Other ways to honor Nano are to plant trees or other perennial plants in places where they will provide wildlife habitat or a restorative environment for humans, and to educate pre-menopausal women about every single option (and right) they have in diagnosing breast lumps.
obit from the Ann Arbor News, hyperlinks added (because I think Nano would have expected me to add them)
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