Coronavirus claims life of Clarke County's first female commissioner


Jewell Elaine Smith John

This obituary was provided by Rodney Funeral Home in Mobile, Alabama:

It is with intense sadness that the family of Jewel Elaine Smith John must announce that she succumbed to Covid-19 in Mobile, Alabama on April 9. She was 98.

Jewel, born Oct. 24th, 1921 may be remembered as a Clarke County commissioner from 1974 to 1990, in Athens, Georgia, where her husband, Robert John, was a music professor and later associate dean of arts and sciences at the University of Georgia. She was the first woman outside of Atlanta to be elected as a county commissioner and worked tirelessly to be the voice of those that were rarely heard. She was also a member and repeat president of the local League of Women Voters beginning in 1950, volunteered to be a regular reader for Recording for the Blind, was a lovely soprano in the Athens Choral Society, and was a member and/or chairperson of many other organizations. She was on the board of the Mental Health Association, Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Northeast Georgia Area Planning and Development Commission for several years, was active in the National Association of Counties – as an appointed member to this National Committee tasked with making legislative recommendations for local governments; additionally, she served on the board of Head Start, had multiple stints at being PTA president for her four children’s schools, and was president of her neighborhood associations, as well as many others.

She was the first woman to be on several boards, and to serve as the chair of many of them. She worked tirelessly to build the annex to the current Athens Georgia courthouse. She and her husband were among the founding families of St. Gregory the Great Episcopal Church on Barnett Shoals Road. In the 1960’s, while living in Durham, North Carolina, she was a staunch supporter of the Civil Rights movement and spent many volunteer hours serving sundry roles and on various committees, including as the Coordinator of Volunteers for Operation Breakthrough, the local anti-poverty agency. After she moved to Georgia, she also worked for the Job Corps. In both roles, she recruited and coordinated volunteer services to combat community-wide problems of poverty. She felt that “poverty is a condition which affects all of us and is everyone’s responsibility.”

Jewel was a classically trained Coloratura (Soprano). She shared her lifelong love of music and her beautiful, soaring voice both with her family and in a variety of different choral groups over the years. While she never measured even 5 feet tall, she was a giant to many. To mis-quote Shakespeare, “though she be but little, she be mighty” - (she could be fierce in her commitments to serve and help her community and combat corruption.) She never voiced complaints or pain, was always completely honest, constantly thought of the comfort of others – whether she knew them personally or not – was generous to a fault, and was ever mindful of, and responsive, to the needs of others. She was our mother, our mentor, our shoulder to cry on, our advisor when we were unsure, and our constant intentional listener, supporter, role model, and guide. She was the best of us. She made a difference in this world, and she really mattered. Perhaps that’s all anyone can hope for upon their death. We will miss her desperately, but her voice will continue to resonate with her many descendants as a beacon of strength, courage, and integrity.

Jewel lived in Mobile, Alabama near her daughter Nanci and son-in-law Wright at the time of her death. She is survived by her four children: David Clarke John (Sherri Philpott), Martha John Flagge, Claudia John Bowen, and Nanci John Penn (Lucius Wright Penn, Jr.) as well as six granddaughters and their husbands, nine great-grandchildren, and several nieces and nephews and their families. She was pre-deceased by both of her parents, and her husband, Dr. Robert Wells John (Married in 1943, died in 2006). A memorial service will be held at a later date at St. Gregory’s the Great Episcopal Church in Athens, Georgia.

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