Juliana Elliott, known to many as Jill Baker, passed away Sunday, July 19, 2020, at the UVM Medical Center in Burlington, Vermont, of complications from an injury. She was 39.
One month earlier, on June 19, Jill posted the latest in her remarkable series of landscape photographs. It was a country road near her home in Waterville, Vermont, with green mountain ridges along the horizon and the sun blazing through a gap in the trees. People wondered how she got these pictures, what kind of expensive camera she used, but she took them all with her smartphone. She had a keen sense of composition, an eye for the best possible light. And she was patient.
“I go very slow to take it all in,” she wrote of her travels through the countryside. “Never gets old. Never will.”
Juliana Kristin Baker was born in 1981, the third child of two schoolteachers, Bill and Maylo Baker.
Born into a family of athletes, Jill played soccer, basketball and softball. Her clutch hitting and cat-like reflexes at third base helped lead the Lancers of Lamoille Union High School to the1999 state championship title. She went on to play basketball and softball with her sister in college.
After graduating from Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts, Jill came home to Vermont and built a career in the hospitality industry, in Stowe. There she met Ben Elliott, an electrician who loved the Boston Red Sox as much as Jill did. They were married in 2010. Jill named their cats Lucy and Lester, the latter after Jon Lester, pitcher for the Red Sox during their 2007 World Series victory. Jill and Ben both worked hard and then enjoyed every minute of their free time together. Whether it was watching their oldest nephews play hockey, riding the “People Mover” at Disney World with their youngest nieces and nephews, or spending time at the Mann Family Camp in South Hero, they fully embraced the joyful things in life. Their passion for Boston sports, UVM Hockey, concerts, other amazing events they attended and adventures they had together helped define them as a couple.
In 2017, Jill was promoted to spa director at the Stoweflake resort. She had a knack for management and was always willing to pitch in with everything from sorting out complicated scheduling conflicts to picking up the stray towels herself. In 2018 she was chosen from about 130 workers as Stoweflake’s Total Resort Employee, the resort’s highest honor, for going above and beyond her responsibilities. She always had a smile for the customer, an encouraging word for a colleague.
On May 12, 2020, Jill ruptured her Achilles tendon while working out in her basement. “Remaining positive,” she wrote from the emergency room. “Things could be so much worse.” On her bandage she wrote THIS TOO SHALL PASS.
Two days later, she posted a picture of herself as a young girl in her mother’s arms. She wrote, “Happy birthday to my beautiful Mother who has the biggest and kindest heart I know.”
She would have liked to hike up to Sterling Pond with her dad, or perhaps train for another 5K race. Instead she rested and recovered in her hammock, wearing a ballcap and sunglasses, enjoying the antics of the sheep who grazed on the hillside, while the spa was temporarily closed. Later that month she wished happy birthday to one of her five beloved nieces. “You are such a special girl,” she wrote, “and I am so lucky to be your aunt!”
Jill was known for her positive attitude and social media posts and although she was injured and furloughed, she kept thinking about the word JOY. “Joy in this beautiful, sunshine filled day,” she wrote. “Joy in getting to sit outside, relax, and take in the many shades of green.”
On June 5 she tagged three college friends in a Facebook post that showed all four of them taking turns wearing her old favorite sweatshirt. She liked to joke around with the people she loved, to be silly and carefree, but she was serious about the relationships in her life.
“I couldn’t be prouder to call you my wife,” Ben wrote the day before her 39th birthday. “You’re the strongest, most resilient person I’ve ever known.”
Jill also meant everything to her brother and sister. As children, she and her sister, Sara, raced giant stuffed unicorns through the house. They later played three sports together, on many teams throughout the years, including the 5th and 6th grade basketball team, when Jill was herself only in 3rd grade, and an AAU basketball team that represented Vermont at the national tournament. She once let her brother, Matt, drag her out of the house during a 3-foot snow storm school cancellation sleep-in day, at age 12, to go ski the fresh powder and moguls at Smugglers’ Notch. She was generous and loyal and up for anything, a confidant and shining light that her siblings could always and will always rely on.
On July 1 she posted two more stunning pictures: a morning scene with clouds against the dark mountain ridge, and a pale orange sky in late afternoon. On July 3 she shared a quote from the motivational speaker Denis Waitley: “Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, or worn. It is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace and gratitude.”
Two days later Juliana Elliott made her last Facebook post from a hospital room, a quote from Psalm 18:39: “You have armed me with strength for the battle.” She had arrived at the hospital because complications from her Achilles injury were suddenly affecting her lungs. The situation worsened, which quickly revealed the astonishing number of people who cared about her. Across New England, the nation, and beyond, there was an outpouring of love, support and prayer for Jill, from her large family and army of friends. She carried it bravely with her as armor until the end.
They remember little things about her: the way she sat down at the piano and played the theme from Forrest Gump; how she took her nieces shopping and took photos with them all wearing funny hats; the determined way she ran and encouraged others to join her, even though she was not a natural runner; the playful hard time she gave Yankees fans; the way she enjoyed Creemees, especially maple or black raspberry; her weakness for her cat, Lester, with whom she occasionally shared her ice cream; the way she rode with her father to deliver wood chips in New Hampshire, when she was a little girl, in return for the promise of a Happy Meal; the way she quoted from Friends; the skillful way she drove some of Vermont’s most treacherous roads; the way she was always up early and always on time; that throw she made from her knees in the championship softball game; those Thursday night volleyball games with her colleagues at Stoweflake; her beauty, her kindness, her smile, her generosity, her photographs; the bright light she gave to the world, like the sun above the ridge, the pale orange sky, fleeting and glorious and unforgettable.
She is survived by her husband, Benjamin Elliott, of Waterville; parents, William and Muriel Baker, of Waterville; parents-in-law, Arthur and Jeanne Elliott, of Lyndonville; brother, Matthew Baker, of Essex Junction; sister, Sara (Baker) Lake, of Decatur, Georgia; sister-in-law, Sarah Elliott Sherratt; brother-in-law, Thomas Lake; nieces and nephews, Rees, Morgan, Henley, Pryce, Ethan, Juniper, Carson, Jonathan and Diana; and many aunts, uncles and cousins.
She was preceded in death by her maternal grandparents, Dr. Roger and Muriel Mann; paternal grandparents, Harold and June Baker, an uncle, Ronald Stebbins, and a niece, Hannah Baker.
A Graveside service will take place on Aug. 1, at 10 a.m., in the family lot at Mountain View Cemetery, in Waterville, Vermont. Masks and social distancing are required.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to: Juliana Elliott Positive Impact Scholarship, LNMUUSD, 96 Cricket Hill Road, Hyde Park, VT 05655. We also invite you to share your memories and condolences by visiting awrfh.com.