Thursday, October 8, 2009

A brief visit to the other side

Yesterday morning I learned of the passing of one of the perennial students on my campus, Helen Jones. Helen was in her early 80s and had been taking undergraduate and graduate classes for years, dragging scores of younger students in her wake as she showed everyone what "lifelong learning" actually looked like in practice.

I have seen both joy and concern on her face, as various African American-- students, staff, and faculty-- chose to excel or not. She never let us have it with anger, always with love. She did a lot of behind-the-scenes counseling, trying to keep people on the path, but somehow everyone on campus always knew who was getting straightened out. In the past several years, we heard a little more about personal ailments and a little less about her next academic achievement or whether we were acting right, but that goes with the territory of aging. We'll all have our turn.

I last saw Helen about two weeks ago, sitting in our campus library regaling one of the reference librarians with some tale or other. She was big on regaling. I've asked around, and she was busy on campus as recently as last Thursday. Friday, she went into the hospital.

She developed a quilt project for her Master's degree that reflected her Southern upbringing and aspects of Black history that most of us don't choose to remember most of the time. I'll post a photo if I can find one.

One of my colleagues wrote the following yesterday, and I don't think she'll mind if I reproduce it here:
So many of us will remember this woman of vision, determination, and courage.
I will miss her stories, her wisdom, our travels and unexpected errand running.
Her untamed guidance and ways of modeling how to be an extraordinary Student
has rubbed off on all of us who studied.
She gave us a greater purpose of being,
and in so many ways defined a Strong, Independent, Black Woman.
We'll never forget you Mrs. Jones.

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