Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Ruth Jones 1919-2015

Today I had the honor to speak at the funeral service for Mrs. Ruth Jones.  I've spoken at many funerals over the years and I usually just talk from key points I want to make.  In this case, I wrote it out.  I don't post this because I think many people will read it.  It's long.  But I post it because I want to make sure it is recorded here so others in the future who were not fortunate enough to live through this period in Reynolds GA and know people like Mrs. Ruth Jones, can at least have the opportunity to get a glimpse of some of what we experienced.  BG


I think it’s important to think about the purpose of us being here today.  

First we are here to celebrate the life of someone who impacted this community and this county in an enormous way.

For most of us here, she is remembered because she taught us in school.  She  began her teaching career in Dudley & Montezuma, but mostly she taught here at Reynolds High School, Reynolds Junior High School and Taylor County High School.  She had a huge influence on a lot of folks.  

For some of you she taught, you ended up teaching with her.  You got to see and appreciate a different side of her that the rest of us probably missed.

Some of you remember the first Girl Scout uniform you ever wore - and you know Mrs. Ruth was instrumental in that and you think of the “who knows how many hours” she volunteered her time for that.

For some, you volunteered with her at the Woman’s Club.  You have special memories of all the meetings and trips to other towns for other meetings - and the selfless hours that went into all that.

For some, you  were friends of her children.  At least one man here has memories of white paint - painting her son and her son painting you - and maybe even a little painting of the headlights of her car.

The common thread here is a close friendship -  the type of a friendship that most folks in bigger places know nothing about.

For a very special group, she was your grandmother.  You have memories that are special only to you.  She loved entertaining you and loved having you all at her house or wherever she was.  You will carry memories with you the rest of your life.  And you will continue to thank God for every one.

For another special group - she was your mother in law and the grandmother of your children.  You have special behind the scenes thoughts and memories and appreciation that none of the rest of us could ever know about.

For Priscilla, Beth, Jean, Harriet and Ronnie:  Above all the other stuff - she was your mama. You only have one mama.  The one person on earth who has loved you no matter what.  The memories you all share of her and those you share with each other - today are the greatest blessing in your life.  And that blessing will only get larger and larger as time goes on.  You are a close knit family.  And you know your mom has always been the glue that held that together.  You heart is conflicted today.  You smile because she did it so well- but your heart is very sad.  

The other purpose today is to honor God.  We honor God in this very special place -this church where many of us spent  a lot of time during the most formative years of our lives.  The place where the people here helped mold our lives spiritually- the people who God used to give us roots and wings.  For some of us, and certainly for Ruth and Roy Jones and this family, this church is a very special place.  

We learned a lot of things here.

We learned here to look at life and death from God’s perspective - we learned here that there is a time to live and a time to die.  We learned here that God gives and God takes away.  We learned here that God’s timing is always perfect. We learned here the greatest truth of all - that God loves us - and He has provided a way through His son -  for His children to live forever.  And we learned here that we can face this day and have that blessed hope that only He can give - that we will all see her again.

And we learned here how to love each other.

This story for me started in the fall of 1959.  They were ten magnificent ladies... and nine of the most formative years of my life.   I was just about to turn five years old when I started in Mrs. Crawley’s kindergarten class in the little building that was across the street from here in her backyard. 

 I finished the eighth grade in the early summer of 1968.   It was about four months before my 14th birthday.

When I walked out of what we called Reynolds Junior High School for the last time in late May of 1968, I thought my relationship with these 10 ladies was over. 

 Little did I know, it was just beginning.

I knew, (especially knew because of the business I grew up in) that their lives on earth would be surely limited by time. But I had no way of knowing how the memories would be forever etched in my mind.  

 Mrs. Crawley, Mrs. Ogburn, Mrs Verna, Mrs. Hollis, Mrs. Byrd, Mrs. Susie, Mrs. Fuller, Mrs Ruth, Mrs Betty and Mrs Payne.

I’m not sure why we called some of them by their last name and some by their first.  I know we always put a Mrs. (or maybe we said “Miss”) before each of their names.

But for whatever reason and for whatever we called them, these ladies’ influence on the people of this community (and as a result – way beyond this community) cannot be measured.  Yes they were schoolteachers, but they were much more.  They were parents and grandparents of some of our classmates.  They taught us in Sunday school.  They were friends with our parents – and in most cases those friendships were generational.

I can tell you this.  To grow up in this town in the late 50’s and early 60’s might have been my biggest blessing in life.  And I’ve had a few blessings.

For many of us, February 8, 2015 marked the end of an unforgettable era.  The last of those 10 magnificent ladies, who was so instrumental in so many lives, has passed away.

Mrs. Ruth Jones was the last one standing.  

As the other nine ladies, she taught us, invested in us, encouraged us, corrected us, punished us… and most of all, loved us. 

Mrs. Ruth was my 6th grade teacher but she also taught me in the 7th and 8th grade because we had started changing classes by then.   The fact that she and Mr. Roy were very close friends of my parents did not help.

She cut me no slack.

Maybe the only slack she cut me was the afternoon there was an autopsy being performed at our funeral home across the street.  I was 13 and daddy wanted me to see the autopsy.  Yep, he started me off early in the family business.   Daddy wrote his friend (and my teacher) a note.  It read – and it think this is verbatim, 

“Ruth, please excuse Bruce from Science class today.  He will be at the funeral home helping to perform an autopsy. He will learn plenty of science.”  Thanks, Ed

Mrs. Ruth kept a grade book on her desk.  In it one would not only find the grades for every test you had taken that six weeks,  but also if you looked at the line by your name, you would see how many demerits she had given you.   Those were the marks she would give you when you misbehaved in class.  Unbeknownst to her, I took a peek at the inside of that grade book at least a few times.

Donald Powell, who would eventually become the longtime US Postmaster in our town, would always have the most demerits.  He was way out in front. 

I would be second.   And nobody else would be even close.

A few years ago, Mrs Ruth invited me to speak to her friends and the staff at Jamestown, the Assisted Living facility she has lived in now for many years.

It was obvious to me that she was excited I was there.  She wanted me to make them laugh.  I forgot exactly all she said when she was introducing me but I remember one thing she said:

"I never thought this boy would make it in life.”

She was laughing when she said it, but I knew she was as serious as a heart attack.

I don’t know what she would have said if she was asked to introduce Donald.

But that day I’m sure she was thinking about the time I hid in the little covey hole of her desk during recess– the area where you put your feet and legs when you sit at a desk.  After the class resumed, I’m sure she was getting ready to give me one demerit for being late when I grabbed her ankles from under the desk.  I think I got at least a few demerits that day. A call to my parents from my teacher also resulted.

Or maybe she was thinking about the day it was my turn to say the blessing in class before going to lunch.  She didn’t say a word to me that day but she looked at me sternly and pulled out that grade book and made another mark – after I said the blessing.  I thought it was a good one:

“Lord bless us and bind us and put us where the devil can’t find us.”  

Everybody else laughed.  She didn’t.

Or maybe she was thinking about the time she was trying to pick up one of those heavy flip charts that was right next to my desk when the legs on it collapsed.  I wasn’t paying much attention when she yelled, “Bruce, grab the legs!”  I grabbed both of her ankles and held on tightly.  

 I have to admit, even she laughed that day.

Or maybe she was thinking about the trip back from Epworth By the Sea from our summer Methodist church camp.   I think one parent would take us down there for camp and another would come get us after the week was over.   I remember vividly she was bringing us back on one of those trips.  Maybe it was the food we had eaten that week.  Or maybe it was that God awful water they had to drink down there.  I’ll just say she made us roll all the windows down of that car just to get air from the foul odor.

We were happy campers.  She was not.

Or maybe she was thinking about the MYF (Methodist Youth Fellowship)  meetings and suppers she hosted at her house.  I’m sure she was able to calm us down at least for a few minutes of serious religion – but I would think she was probably saying, “I have to have them at school.  Why in the world do I put this on myself and bring them to my house!”

So I knew she was serious when she made that “I didn’t think he would make it” statement. 

But I also knew why she had invited me that day.

Our relationship did not end when I was 13 years old and I graduated from Reynolds Jr. High School.  We would be friends for the next 47 years.  

I buried her husband of 50 years – who happened to be my dad’s best friend on the earth.  I remember walking through that with her and thinking how relationships change as we get older.  I was no longer the little brat that drove her crazy – but the person to walk with her through the most difficult time of her life.

We took at least one long road trip together.  She called me one day to ask me if I traveled to Brunswick in all my travels.   She wanted to hitch a ride to go see Priscilla.  We made that trip.   Just the two of us.   About 9 hours total (going and coming).   That was about as fun as it gets.  I can tell you that we had no trouble making conversation. 

I heard her say more than once, when you are with a Goddard you don’t have to worry about conversation. They will take care of it.

And I can also tell you the trip included a lot of laughter.  

Who could ever forget her laugh?

As an adult,  I visited her in her home many times and I visited her at the assisted living facility - a few times.  I wish I had visited more.  Even when she got to where she could not hear so well, she lit up when I walked in the room – as she did when any of her former students visited her. 

Jimmy Childre, Will Crawley and I stopped by Jamestown one afternoon.  We were all in that same class that graduated from Jr High School in 1968.   We were in Fort Valley for a funeral and decided to go see her.  She couldn’t hear too well but her face absolutely lit up when the three of us walked in that room.  We could have never known that Will, our classmate and friend, would die not too long after that visit.

All of us visit our senior friends who can’t get out from time to time.  They love it and it makes us feel as good as it makes them feel.

Maybe that’s a lesson for all of us today.

Why don’t we visit them more?

Mrs. Ruth didn’t read this poem to us that day when we left – but somehow I think she may have been thinking it:

Blessed are they who understand my faltering step and shaking hand.
Blessed are they who know my ears today must strain to catch the things they say.
Blessed are they who seem to know that my eyes are dim and my wits are slow.
Blessed are they who looked away when I spilled the coffee at the table today.
Blessed are they with the cheery smile who take the time to chat for a while.
Blessed are they who know the ways to bring back memories of yesterdays.
Blessed are they who make it known I’m loved, respected and not alone.

Interestingly, the two questions I asked myself when I heard  this weekend that she was in Hospice care were– “When did I last see her?  Why didn’t I go more often?”

The times I did visit were rich.  We always talked about old times.   She would tell me stories about my dad and Mr. Roy – stories I’ve heard many times but the kind that never grow old.   We would talk about our particular class – one that she would never forget because her third child Jean was in it.  

Yes I know why she invited me that day – even though at one time she had a very good reason to think I would not amount to much.

She was proud of me.  Just as she was proud of all her students.  In her eyes, I was part of the fruit of her labor.  

And for the record,   I wanted her to be proud of me.

At this stage in my life, I really don’t spend time seeking approval from a lot of folks.  But I did want her approval.  I wanted her to know the investment she made in me made a difference in my life.  I wanted her to know the times she sent me to the office and the time she called my parents and the times those demerits showed up on my report card – paid off for me. 

And for her.

Mrs. Ruth Jones was a key player and influencer in my life.  And in a lot of other lives in this room and in this community.

This morning we are back at this church where she was a member for 67 years.  The church she spent who knows how many hours volunteering for everything under the sun.  Back to the church where she raised her 5 children.

And by the way, speaking of her five children – if you think she was proud of all those students she invested in – it pales in comparison of how proud she was of you  and your mates and your children and your children’s children.

You all are recipients of God’s grace.  You had nothing to do with the fact that Roy and Ruth Jones were your parents.  You didn’t choose them.  You really had nothing to do with it.

God did it. And He has lavished His grace on you.  

You loved her. You honored her.  You took care of her.  You made sure she had everything she needed.   You honored your mother in her life and it her death.

You did it right.

We will leave here shortly and place her earthly body next to your dad at Hillcrest Cemetery.  

Her earthly life is done. She did it with class and she did it well.

But take it from someone who has experienced what you are experiencing today - the memories and the influence are about to go to the next level.  The mental pictures she has created for you will become more and more alive.

And the tears will turn to smiles and thanksgiving.

For many of us “other folks” here, the last of these ten magnificent ladies – who were such a big part of all our lives – is gone.  All we can do and should do is give thanks to God that we were fortunate enough to be under their umbrella during the most formative years of our lives.

Make no mistake; Mrs. Ruth Jones is alive in heaven today.  But she is also alive on earth.  Because she is alive in all of us she invested her life in.

As long as we tell the stories and as long as we have breath, we’ll keep her alive.

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