Although Janet Conway Leatherwood was, unfortunately, not able to graduate from DHS in 1985 with her friends – the notorious Gnats – she still considers Devine her hometown community. Instead, Janet graduated from Greenville High School in East Texas in 1984. The move was necessary because Janet’s parents, both who were teachers in Natalia, were taking doctorate courses in education, and the program required them to complete their doctorates at East Texas State University. “I was devastated to leave my friends (the Gnats) and move away,” Janet recalls. (Nevertheless, the friendship never waned.)
The family initially relocated in Honey Grove, a small town near Paris in East Texas. This move turned out to be advantageous for Janet because it was there that she started her pageant career, winning the Fannin County Queen in the fall of 1982. She went on to compete in the Miss Teen Texas pageant in 1983. Although she did not place, she declares that it was quite an experience – one that prompted her to continue in her pageant and modeling career.
Janet then attended Southwestern Oklahoma State University in Weatherford OK, where she worked at the Clinton Daily News – Clinton, OK – through most of her college years. Although she was a natural history major, Janet always loved journalism and earned the journalism scholarship from the newspaper every year. Initially, she was hired as a photographer; but, she soon discovered a love for other areas of the newspaper. She worked as a special tabs representative, in paste-up, and as a proofreader. At this time, she also began learning computer skills and with one of the first generations of Mac computers, an experience which would become useful for her later in life.
In addition to her scholarship earnings from journalism, Janet was able to further support her college expenses by continuing to compete in pageants. In her last year of college, she competed in the Miss Oklahoma USA pageant and placed in the top 10. She explains that, because she usually placed first or second runner-up, she was able to compete over and over again, ultimately earning her more scholarship money than she would have earned as an actual winner. In her last year of college, she competed in the Miss Oklahoma USA for the first time and placed in the top ten.
Graduating with a degree in natural history and education, Janet says that it is interesting that she would not teach for nearly twenty-five years later. Instead, she went to work for the El Reno Tribune as a sales representative. She worked at the Tribune for about two years when KOKH TV 25 offered her a job as an account representative, a position she found to be ideal for her at the TV station. She also found other positions she loved, for example, the house production department. She also did in-house talent for commercials, infomercials, and weekend news. “I loved that job so much,” Janet exclaims. Unfortunately, however, that independent TV station was purchased by FOX two years later, and everyone from the station was released. Heartbroken, Janet returned to her roots at the Mustang News in Mustang, OK.
Meanwhile, Janet was modeling for an agency, a job which enabled her to model full-time for the next two years. She did runway shows, truck shows, billboards, print, infomercials, pageants, and commercials all over Oklahoma and the surrounding region. She even won a couple of lesser-known Miss Oklahoma titles during that time.
In Janet’s next position, she worked at Southwestern Bell Mobile Systems as one of their first 40 employees. During this time, Janet began to develop her computer skills and learned how the cellular system works.
Janet married in 1993 and decided to become a stay-at-home mom. However, she experienced several failed attempts at carrying a baby full term until, with the help of fertility specialists, she was blessed with success. Today, she has two beautiful daughters. Lauren, her oldest, graduated with a communications degree from the University of Oklahoma in 2018, and Audrey, her second daughter, will graduate from the University of Oklahoma this May with a double major in management information systems and international business and a minor in Spanish.
After her children started to school, Janet began working in commercial film production. She began with small jobs as a production assistant. Then, she worked whatever was available that did not interfere with her daughters’ schedules for the first few years. Meanwhile, she continued to enhance her computer skills. She worked on special effects, 3D modeling, and editing film. For the next 20 years, Janet would hold what she says is just about every position on the film set -everything from a production assistant to a line producer to commercial film spots, TV series, feature films, documentaries, music videos, and internet content.
With pageantry and modeling still in her system, in 2004, Janet won the Mrs. Arkansas United States pageant. She then competed in the Mrs. United States pageant. She says that although she did not place, it was a wonderful experience. Then, in 2008, her life would take a turn.
Just as the real estate market crashed in 2008, so did the film industry. So, during the next year, Janet would learn more computer skills, namely, those used to code iPhone mobile apps after Apple opened up its third-party development platform. She had been writing snippets of code in Final Cut Pro to enhance her special effects, but, now it was time to learn seriously. Within two months of learning, she submitted her first app, and it was approved. “Unofficially,” Janet states, “I have been told that I was the first female developer on the App Store. But, for unknown reasons, Apple will neither confirm nor deny that claim.”
Janet started developing apps during the next couple of years and was still working production, as the job starting to return. She wrote five apps under her own name and many apps for businesses. She found a niche in the publishing business animating books for iPhone. “I am proficient with animation,” Janet proudly claims.
In 2012, following a divorce, Janet moved to Miami, Florida, where she had worked production in the past. She continued working introduction until 2014, completing her last video for her Brothers Band, no justice. After producing that video, Janet decided to get her Florida teacher certificate as Plan B to production. She found a teaching position at an alternative Charter School in Homestead, FL. “I realized I love to teach and have been at the school ever since,” She says, adding, “Teaching high-risk students is the most rewarding job.”
Janet “met the love of my life” and married Mike Leatherwood in July of 2017. A month before her wedding, however, she was diagnosed with malignant melanoma. It had spread to her lymph nodes, and it was staged at 3C – just under stage 4. She says that she was fortunate to be in Florida because some of the best oncologists for melanoma practice there. She had surgery to remove the melanoma and received immunotherapy (chemo) for the next five months. Today, she says she feels very fortunate to be cancer-free – starting the count in July of 2018. And Janet adds emphatically, “As far as melanoma goes, get it checked! It saved my life!”
Janet’s high school friends from Devine, the Gnats, have continued to be an important part of her life. She says that, although she moved so far away, they have always kept up with her, and they never lost touch. “We all have a very rare friendship.” After she started her chemo, these Devine friends “did the sweetest things.” Every week one of these dear friends would send something to her home. One week it was flowers; another week, it was a handmade gift. “The support I received from my awesome ‘sisters’ was amazing.” Janet concludes that she loves hosting her Devine friends at her home in Miami where they have so much fun every year.