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Op-Ed by Christa Jennings
I met Mrs. Jo in early January 2005 when I came to “The Coosa County News” office in Rockford to be interviewed for an internship. Or so I thought. I came with my resume, references if needed and my clip file. I was prepared to meet and be interviewed by Mr. Scarbrough.
Instead I sat and talked to the woman at the front desk for a while, who introduced herself as Mrs. Jo with a smile. I talked to the other two women in the office – Mrs. Sherry and Ms. Alice – and I was put to work. It was an interesting few days, and after about a week I finally got official confirmation that I was hired to intern at the newspaper – with no interview or anything. This was something Mrs. Sherry apparently knew from Day One, but something I didn’t know for nearly a week until I finally said if I was going to intern there then I needed some paperwork filled out.
That interesting day was the start of my 17 years of knowing Mrs. Jo. Initially it was the three of us women in the office with her. Over time it became just Mrs. Jo and me. And so it would remain for the better part of 15 years. Others would be hired on and stay a couple of weeks or a month or two. And through them all there was Mrs. Jo and me.
She was a steady presence in the office the entire time until she retired in the spring of 2020. We spent roughly 3,600 days together, give or take. We talked and laughed together, we’d get on each other’s nerves, and we continued talking and working side by side together through it all.
During my early days at the newspaper office she was amused that I was surprised the mayor had another job and that being mayor wasn’t his full-time job, or when I learned the police officer was the police chief and that the town only had one officer. I learned more about the area pretty quickly, largely thanks to Mrs. Jo.
She was a wealth of knowledge and wisdom, and she enjoyed talking and sharing with others, myself included. She talked to me about Coosa County history, Fred the Town Dog, the Old Rock Jail and Museum, and so much more. I learned a great deal from her, and it was a tremendous help in my career and local life, as well.
Beyond that, though, we talked about life in general, about our families (she especially loved talking about her granddaughters, Elise and Celeste, and keeping me updated on them), about her and Mr. Scarbrough’s numerous trips and places they had seen over the years, and so much more in the 15 years we worked together.
Mrs. Jo was one of a kind. She was kind, sweet, honest, and blunt. There was no beating around the bush with her, and she would not hesitate to tell you exactly how she felt about something.
Under her tough exterior was the kind woman so many knew. She would get so excited when my mom or Bobby Davis would bring a bucket of KFC to the office for us to have an “office picnic.” It was a special treat since she loved it but couldn’t really eat it at home, and I loved seeing her light up when they’d bring it by, jumping up and hurrying back to the kitchenette to get plates, utensils and paper towels.
She would give my young nephew toy cars and trucks, and when my stepdaughter would need to spend time at the office she would talk with her and sometimes give her coloring books or toys. She sometimes gave me Beanie Babies or plush animals that she knew were ones I’d like (such as Garfield and a snow leopard), and I still have those today. One year for Christmas she gave me an Auburn purse, which I still use today. It has added character now from the Great Office Ceiling Leak/Collapse of May 4, 2021.
In a decade and a half we were there through the good and the bad. When I made a phone call from the newspaper office and learned I needed to hurry home because my dad wasn’t going to be with us much longer, Mrs. Jo was there. When I went through my separation and divorce, Mrs. Jo was there. An ever presence in some form or fashion through numerous ups and downs in my life. And vice versa – because in any relationship it’s a 2-way street. I was alone at the office one morning when Mrs. Jo called in tears to tell me she wouldn’t be coming in that day because Aubrey had died. When she fell on the office floor, I was there to pick her up.
We’ve been through so much together, and there’s so much more I could share. But one of the main things I will remember about Mrs. Jo is her smile and her laugh, the way her eyes would twinkle as she laughed or as she told a funny story. She will be so missed by so many, myself included.