This writer has been an Etowah County resident for more than 50 years. I’ve met scores of people, interviewed and/or written about folk ranging from housewives to presidential candidates and those in between. In short, I have met hundreds of local people, from one end of this county to the other.
But I had never met Joan Jones, nor knew about her until a recent Sunday afternoon. But I did meet her, learn about her and came to know her very well — in a very different way — while attending the celebration of her life that featured the singing of her favorite gospel songs.
Here’s the story; it’s one based on John 3:16 and those verses in Ephesians, “By grace ye are saved by faith …”
A pouring rain failed to keep a grateful crowd from filling the pews of South Gadsden’s Edgewood Baptist Church to celebrate and honor the life of this woman who was so well known by so many.
And the stories told about Jones were many. Some were funny, some were sad, some told of special care, but all told of Jones’ love of children and for their families. Plus, her helping of so many others in their time of distress.
I heard men and women (many with tears glowing) gladly telling of what “Joan” — nobody spoke of her as Ms. Jones or Nurse Jones, she was just “Joan” to everybody — had meant to them and to their children. One speaker summed it all up by stating, “She was something else!”
Pastor Bart Watts said that after Jones joined his church several years ago, people asked about her everywhere he went. “It seemed everybody knew her; then I learned that she was an unofficial member of many churches because of her helping with their Bible school or other activities," he said. “In fact, she has been everywhere helping people whenever and wherever she could.”
Jones worked as a nurse for the late Dr. Richard Rutland at Gadsden Pediatric Clinic for more than two decades. There, she became “mother” to the hundreds of children who came there for medical treatment, including some treated by other doctors in the clinic. The love and devotion she had given to them was the basis for the joyful and tearful words said on her behalf during the 90-minute service.
“This woman helped and cared for so many.”
“She went above and beyond!"
“I will miss this giving soul!”
Such comments were offered repeatedly by countless men and women who knew, and loved, Joan Jones, who died in December from the effects of diabetes. She was 64 years old.
“She helped raise my children,” one grieving mother told this reporter. “I could tell many stories how she helped me and other parents when our children were patients there.”
Another told how Jones befriended her and her sister (and other girls) telling them, “If you don’t behave, I’ll strip you naked and throw you in a briar patch!” Laughing, the young mom said she tells her children the same thing, recalling, “We really believed she would have done that.”
I received a text from another mother: “Joan was such a special part in the life of my four kids when they were growing up. My daughter was devastated upon learning she would have to change to a 'grown-up' doctor when she turned 18; Joan, as always full of sympathy, prevailed (on) the clinic to allow her to continue as their patient for one more year.”
One speaker laughed as he told how Jones, a short. plump woman, had a sense of humor about her size; he said the tag on her small, smart car read: “I be BIG.”
And a 30-year-old former patient said via email, “She loved us and will forever be missed.”
But a strange thing happened in Jones’ life a few years ago. It’s said that God intervened, sending her to another line of work, although she remained as a nurse but with many other responsibilities.
She left the pediatric field to take the reins of the Etowah Free Clinic, organized a few years earlier to provide medical care to uninsured men, women and children living in Etowah County. The medical director for EFC was Dr. Chip Griffith, formerly of Gadsden Pediatrics, who was devoting his time there after retiring from his active practice. “I recommended her; she was the right person for the job,” he said of Jones.
Laura Slezak, first a volunteer who took on more responsibilities at EFC, who is succeeding Jones as its executive director, said she was a hard-working woman who “was the strictest boss I ever had. She was a teacher who showed me and others how to do our job in providing the needed medical care for people who otherwise could not or wouldn’t have it.”
EFC is funded by United Way, local churches, grants and by the Alabama Association of Charitable Clinics. In addition to doctor visits, EFC also provides for lab work, X-rays and other medical care at no cost to its clients.
Severe health problems, most caused by her years-long battle with diabetes, caused Jones to slow her EFC work during the past year. “She lost a leg due to that disease,” said Slezak, who lovingly became her caregiver after she became homebound.
Asked what impressed her most about Jones’ life, Slezak quickly responded: “Her love of Christ that she continually expressed by serving people of this county; Christ-like behavior in all ways was the way she lived her life.”
Those words were spoken in tribute to the life of a woman who continually lived a Christ-like life. I am so glad I had the opportunity to meet Joan Jones in a very personal way, and now to tell you about her.
As the man said, “She was something else!”
This article originally appeared on The Gadsden Times: Friends, colleagues pay tribute to Joan Jones