Like a weaver you have rolled up my life. You cut it off like a finished piece of cloth.Isaiah 38:12
O B I T U A R Y
Jean Branch Maney Edwards, 98, a native of Nashville, Tennessee and a long-distance runner for peace, justice, and the integrity of creation, died peacefully of natural causes at Treyton Oak Towers in Louisville, Kentucky on November 4, 2020. In accordance with her wishes, her body was donated to the University of Louisville Medical School.
Jean grew up in a decidedly conservative environment. Her mother, for a time treasurer of the Tennessee State Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), taught her, in Jean’s words, “to salute and value the flag.” Yet it was this involvement that first made Jean aware of systemic racism. Shocked to hear in 1939 that the DAR had refused to bend its policy of segregation to allow opera singer Marian Anderson to perform at its Constitution Hall in Washington, DC, Jean from that time on increasingly distanced herself from racism in any form. Formative was also the presence of her maternal grandparents in her childhood home. Both were deaf due to childhood infections. Jean learned sign language early, thus helping her grandparents to communicate with the outside world and sensitizing her to the special needs of persons with disabilities.
While in her 20’s, Jean earned degrees from Converse College in Spartanburg, South Carolina and the Presbyterian Training School for
Lay Workers in Richmond, Virginia (later incorporated into Union
Theological Seminary). Early employment included leading Vacation
Bible School programs in rural Presbyterian congregations throughout
her native Tennessee. Later, she worked as Director of Christian
Education at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Nashville. It was in
these years that Jean developed her leadership style, as simple as it
was effective: “Praise works better than pressure.”
At age 22, she married her first husband, Jim Gregory, then a soldier in
the United States Army. A year later, in December 1944, Gregory was
killed in action in the Battle of the Bulge. His death was for Jean a
pivotal moment, resulting in an unwavering commitment to pacifism that would shape the rest of her life.
In 1947, Jean coincidently encountered George Edwards at a church meeting in Memphis. Though from opposite ends of Tennessee, the two had known each other since high school days through their participation in statewide Presbyterian youth conferences. They quickly found themselves to be kindred souls, George’s biblically-based pacifism complementing the
consequences Jean had drawn from the bitter loss of her first husband. Following a whirlwind courtship, they were married on December 30 of that year, remaining together for sixty-two years until George’s death in 2010.
Together, they formed a powerful team. In the early years of their marriage, they served a series of Presbyterian churches in Southern
Indiana, North Carolina and at Pewee Valley in Kentucky, Jean often accompanying the singing on the piano while George led the worship. It was during this time that their three children Riley, Virginia and John were born. The roles shifted a bit after George became Professor of New Testament at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary (LPTS). But the high level of commitment to the local church remained.
As Jean turned 40 and the civil rights movement came to the fore, she and her husband were instrumental in the formation of Peace Presbyterian Church, then an interracial new church development in Louisville’s Newburg area. There, George shifted from the pulpit to the choir
director’s slot, with Jean remaining at the piano.
Ten years later and with her children now leaving home, Jean sought new areas of activity. She had already been working part-time as circulation manager of the Review and Expositor, a publication of the Louisville Southern Baptist Seminary. To this she now added the production of “Jeanie’s Crunchy Granola”, which she made at her own kitchen stove and sold in a local health food cooperative. It was during this time that she discovered the importance of recycling and waste reduction, pursuing
both with such dedication that she earned herself the nickname “Recycling Queen.” But it was in 1975 with the formation of the Louisville chapter of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), an international and interfaith peace organization, that Jean found her true element. From the
beginning, she was at the hub, serving sometimes as secretary, other times as treasurer and throughout as contributor to the organization’s monthly publication FORsooth. Working tirelessly to engineer a never-ending stream of meetings and vigils, she perfected the use of the telephone to a
fine art. Whether she needed you to speak, carry a sign or fold paper cranes, the approach was always the same: She got you on the phone and charmed you into doing your part. A skillful mediator in times of conflict, her standard opener was “I’m so sorry to hear about this. How can we fix it?” But if she felt that you were trying to steer her in the wrong direction, she would likely stop you dead in your tracks with her infamous one-liner: “Ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no lies.” A real nightowl, she often continued working in her home office until the wee hours of the morning. As she grew older, she increasingly compensated for the late hours by falling asleep on short notice at any hour of the day.
Jean’s pace would not slow significantly until 2013, when at age 92 she suffered a fall in her kitchen, leaving her unable to continue living unassisted. It was only then that she accepted that it was time to move from her home on Kaelin Avenue to Treyton Oak Towers There too, she took an active role, serving on the home’s Advisory Board and faithfully
attending any musical program the institution offered. Until almost the very end, now nearly 99, you could hear her laughter ringing from one end
of the hallway to the other.
In addition to her three children, Jean is descended by eight grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. Altogether, with spouses and partners, a group of nearly 30 persons living on both sides of the Atlantic.
A memorial service is planned for 12:00 pm on Saturday, November 28, to be led by the pastors of Central Presbyterian, Jean’s church home for the past 45 years. In keeping with the constraints of the current pandemic, the service will be held in digital form only. If you would like to join in, please
request the link at firstname.lastname@example.org. Messages of condolence may also be sent to this address.
Contributions to Jean’s loving memory may be sent to: Central Presbyterian Church (https://centralchurchky.org/), Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary (https://www.lpts.edu/) or the Louisville Fellowship of Reconciliation (https://louisvillefor.org/).
Ludwigsburg, Germany, November 12, 2020
The Rev. Riley Edwards-Raudonat
Video of Jean Edwards at FOR’s public celebration of the lives of Jean and George Edwards (recorded June 2012):
(Thanks to Rhody Streeter for sharing this video.)