For more than three decades, Janet Denise Waddell worked as a special police officer at Howard University, keeping students and staff safe.

Outside work, she enjoyed organizing church choir events, cooking and playing with her three grandchildren. Waddell, 56, died of complications of covid-19 on Jan. 2.

“She really loved her family, and her passion was for her grandkids,” said her daughter, Brenda Waddell, 33. “I have one child who is 11, and my brother has two children who are ages 3 and 5.”

Janet Waddell’s husband died in 2001, and Brenda Waddell said part of her mother’s self therapy was cooking for family and friends, including sweet potato pies and meatballs.

Gerald Waddell, 27, her son, said his mother, “would say that my kids were her kids. She meant the world to me. I loved her cooking, especially macaroni and cheese with breadcrumbs. That was her thing.”

In a statement, Howard University President Wayne Frederick said Waddell served in the Department of Public Safety in various roles from 1985 until 2019. Her most recent role was as an access control operator.

“Her former colleagues remember her as someone who genuinely enjoyed people and provided outstanding customer service,” Frederick said. “Ms. Waddell was known throughout the department for her infectious laugh and smile. Words cannot adequately express our heartfelt sympathy to Ms. Waddell’s devoted children, cherished grandchildren, and her entire family.”

“She considered all of Howard as her family, and I did, too,” Brenda Waddell said. “When I was growing up, I would know the names of the different officers.”

The family said Waddell lost her job at Howard when the university was making cuts in service. University officials declined to comment.

Waddell’s children said she worked some other jobs in security for a time but suffered from asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, known as COPD. They said things were not easy, but the family made it through.

“Being a single mother, she always made a way out of no way,” Gerald Waddell said.

Janet Waddell, who lived in Oxon Hill, first attributed her nagging cough to her preexisting health conditions, family members said, but a trip to the doctor led to a troubling diagnosis of covid-19. She was initially admitted to United Medical Center, but then she was transferred to Sibley Memorial Hospital, where she died.

Waddell was an active member of Crusaders Baptist Church in Northeast D.C., which had a vibrant music ministry that she supported. Now most local churches are empty, and the organ music is silent. While more people are now getting vaccinated, Brenda Waddell said she is saddened her mother never got that chance.

“I just think that more could have been done to contain this virus,” she said.