One December as a child in the 1950s, Janet Foreman’s son Francis overheard her and his father talking about how they couldn’t afford to have a Christmas that year. But Christmas morning came, and the family celebrated with food, presents and new clothes.
“We had a Christmas that would have been the envy of the Vanderbilts,” Francis “Butch” Foreman said. Janet Foreman had been shopping on Market Street, bargaining with shop owners to give her family a great holiday. “We didn’t have much, but she was a great negotiator. She knew how to develop a rapport with people.”
Janet Celeste Foreman, known to her friends as “Tootie,” died June 29. She was 89 years old. Her friends and family remembered her as a generous, gregarious, and hardworking woman.
“There are a lot of great mothers, but none greater than my mom,” Foreman’s son, former Minnesota Vikings running back Walter “Chuck” Foreman, said. “She was a friend to all. Everyone knew they were welcome in my mother’s house.”
Foreman was born and raised in Frederick. She grew up in the segregation era and graduated from Lincoln High School.
“She lived through the horrible times when blacks were not allowed to go certain places,” said longtime friend and neighbor Barbara Thompson, of the African American Resources, Cultural Heritage Society. “She was a determined person who taught her children to rise above the circumstances.”
Six weeks before Foreman’s death, Thompson filmed an interview with her for an AARCH-produced film, “The Tale of the Lion,” about the history of Frederick’s black community. Foreman, Thompson said, was a great storyteller and historian of Frederick.
“It was amazing, beyond our expectations,” she said. “When she was telling me stories of her like and the political environment, local happenings, I could close my eyes and visualize it.”
Foreman and her husband, the late Francis “Bill” Houston Foreman, raised their children on All Saints Street in Frederick. She worked at the Atomic Energy Commission in Germantown and later the General Services Administration in Rockville. When her mother died at age 38, Foreman helped raise her younger brother and sisters as well, Thompson said.
“She didn’t think twice about it,” she said. “She knew that’s what her mom needed her to do.”
The Foremans were also generous with taking in neighborhood kids and their children’s friends who needed a place to go.
“I can’t tell you how many brothers and sisters I had that weren’t blood,” Chuck Foreman said.
“Her house was always open to everyone, from the time I was a kid to the day she died,” Francis Foreman said.
Money was tight, daughter Shelley Foreman Draper said, but Foreman always made sure she and her husband provided for the family.
“We never knew we were poor,” Draper said. “I can’t remember anything bad there. My parents never argued in front of us.”
Foreman was always a social person. She was a longtime member of Asbury United Methodist Church. According to multiple friends and family members, Foreman was respected around town for her kindness and generosity.
As Foreman began to experience physical disabilities later in life, the kindness she’d shown people came back to her. Whenever she’d go shopping at Walmart or Giant Eagle, people would recognize her car and bring a motorized shopping cart for her, Draper said.
Foreman was kind, but she could also be a disciplinarian, her children said.
When as a child Chuck Foreman did not do his chores, Draper said, Foreman made him scrub the kitchen floor with a toothbrush.
Later, when Chuck Foreman was playing professional football, he came back to Frederick to visit. He left his bags at his mom’s house and went to D.C. to have a good time with friends and didn’t return for a few days, he said.
“I came back, and my bags were at the door,” said Foreman, who played in three Super Bowls for the Vikings. “She said, ‘It’s time for you to go. There’s Walter Foreman and there’s Chuckie Foreman. But Chuck Foreman, I think you better leave him on the football field.’ ... It was her way of telling me I better get myself grounded.”
All three of Foreman’s sons were good football players. Francis Foreman played at the University of Cincinnati, and the late Gary Foreman played at the University of Miami.
“We got out athleticism from our father,” Francis Foreman said. “But our desire, determination and mental strength came from my mother. She had some real challenges, but she was tough.”
More than anything, Foreman is remembered as charming and generous. She spent time visiting older people in the community, and sending them cards and making phone calls when she could no longer visit in person, said Hilda Diggs, of Asbury UMC. She was famous around town for her fashion sense, Rose Cheney said.
“I used to tell her God made a mistake,” Thompson said. “She should have been born royalty.”