Faith, flowers brighten dark days for retired teacher

By Traci DiPietro
Staff Writer
Posted 4/10/07

“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore …

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Faith, flowers brighten dark days for retired teacher


“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” Mark 11:22-24 (New International Version)

The National Wildlife Federation recently recognized Fairhope Elementary School as an official Wildlife Habitat site. In order to achieve this certification, the school must employ sustainable gardening practices and provide basic elements required to sustain wildlife; food, water, shelter and breeding areas.

FES faculty and students have worked diligently to regenerate the sizable garden they hope will become a thriving habitat for flora and fauna.

The “L. Jones Butterfly Garden and Bird Habitat” at FES was named after Linda Jones (fondly referred to as L.J. by her peers), a teacher of 30 years who retired after learning she had pancreatic cancer.

Jones will be long remembered for the impression she made on both her coworkers and her students, said Kiki Sealy, the school’s media specialist. She will be remembered for her incredible energy, for developing and implementing innovative programs, and for her deep devotion to the children at FES.

“You will never find a more dedicated, loyal teacher than L.J.,” said Sealy, as she fought to hold back tears.

“She makes such a difference in everyone’s life. She made home visits to every parent, you know. Who does that? Anyone who does not know L.J. is truly missing a blessing.”

Literacy was a critical issue to Jones, said Sealy; as she browsed through photos.

“Successful readership was critical to her. This photo … this is L.J. with her students. The photo was taken during a project L.J. developed to combat illiteracy in India for International Literacy Day.”

Jones and her students sent boxes of books to children in India, said Sealy, and she also acquired thousands of books from across the nation to donate to schools affected by Hurricane Katrina.

“She would make up jingles to teach the children … anything to help them learn,” said Susan Sims, a third-grade teacher at FES.

The value Jones placed on reading was evident each spring during the Annual Accelerated Reading Parade, they said. Students had to earn points by reading books to participate in the parade. If they earned 75 points, they could walk the parade. If they earned 100, they could ride a float. Each year, all of Jones students made it. On average, said Sealy, a class would read between up to 2,000 books. Jones’ class read over 5,000.

“She gave 110 percent to her students,” said Sealy.

In addition to her literacy projects, said Sims, Jones was always writing grants to fund other educational projects.

“L.J. would have an idea for a project, and she would invite us all to her house. Sometimes we would stay up all night,” said Sims.

“I cannot tell you the influence she has had on my life,” said Sealy. “Because of her, I got my double A certification. In fact, she was the one who brought National Board Certification to this area.”

Jones was also instrumental in organizing a grant to fund an educational trip to Italy, and she won the Presidential Award in Science for the State of Alabama. She met President George Bush as a result; he wrote letters to each of her students after receiving letters they had written to him.

Sealy said that in addition to educational accomplishments, one thing that really stood out in Jones was her faith in God— something she always projected, even at school.

“She really walked the walk,” said Sealy.

She said a number of the faculty at FES would join Jones at 7:30 each morning at the school for a time of prayer. Jones, who said she gave her heart to Christ when she was 5 years old, also prayed with, and for, her students.

It was last year when Jones began experiencing some minor health problems. First it was a drop in energy. Then it was indigestion and stomach problems; acid reflux. These symptoms evolved into excruciating pain in her back and stomach, and Jones, who had seen her doctor on and off, knew something was wrong. A few days before Christmas, she said, she went to the doctor for tests. Two days after the holiday, she was told her CAT Scan revealed two tumors in her pancreas area. Jones had pancreatic cancer; less than a 10 percent survival rate. She was terminal.

The Journal of American Medical Association lists pancreatic cancer as the fourth leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. Depending on the extent of the tumor at the time of diagnosis, the prognosis is generally regarded as poor, and few victims survive more than five years after diagnosis. Complete remission is extremely rare. In fact, the median survival rate for this type of cancer with chemo is only eight to nine months, according to the National Cancer Institute. Each year about 37,170 individuals in the United States are diagnosed with this condition; 33,370 deaths are reported.

The statistical outlook was not good for Jones.

“Facing death really makes you put things in perspective,” she said. “I asked myself, what am I leaving for my children? I want them to remember me as … a woman who walked with the Lord, who loved the Lord.”

Jones was not ready to give up. She went to see a specialist in Mobile; he told her the cancer was inoperable, and he recommended she forego chemotherapy and go home.

Her son, Chad, a paramedic, was not convinced.

“They are only doctors,” he said. “But we have got God on our side.”

Jones knew he was right, and she decided to fight for her life. She went to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, where, she said, “Terminal is a word not used.” FES faculty and friends rallied around Jones, traveling with her while she underwent her treatments. They prayed for her.

She began to immerse herself in the word of God, and to research scriptures related to healing and to Gods promises. She retired from teaching, and began to participate in healing services held in Daphne and hosted by the United Methodist Church. A number of miraculous events have taken place in Jones' life; too many to list here. But Jones has comes to terms with major changes in her life, is convinced that God has healed her of this disease.

“He told me I would be healed. He is not done with me … He has a purpose yet for my life,” said Jones.

She is now waiting for the physical manifestations of healing to appear. Jones has already lived beyond expectations, and she says she is feeling fine. In fact, her January report, remarkably, revealed that her cancer had stopped growing. She said she will not return to teaching; she hopes, rather, to pursue a healing ministry with cancer patients.