In an overwhelming season of self-isolation and trauma across the world the curtain of our familiar coping mechanisms has been torn to shreds. More than perhaps ever before in our lifetimes we are aware of the value of friendships, family, and social interaction. What we’ve so easily taken for granted is now in full focus; what we value, what we’ve lost, and what we’re joining together to restore.
While our attention is quite rightly on this unique global crisis, life and death continues – almost on the sidelines. And when we’re looking the other way it can take a while to catch up. In the past days and months two long-time friends and members of Jericho Road Church, Port Alberni have died – full of years, as the Bible describes in the Old Testament. Dr. John Jemson died in December and Judy Henry passed away peacefully last Saturday evening. As it may be a long time before we gather to celebrate their long and generous lives I thought it appropriate to acknowledge and honor their lives now – in the meantime.
I knew both John and Judy for many years. John and Barbara Jemson were hospitable and welcoming from the time of my arrival in Port Alberni in October 1985. Judy joined the church not long after and was actively involved until she was physically unable to do so. As a pastor, some come and go with the seasons. Many keep their distance, but these two were faithful, committed, and interested throughout. In tough times they came and talked (Judy laughed and cried, she loved her tears) and both gave me the privilege of listening and communicating. They were humble, strong-willed, curious, and compassionate. The likes of them are the very essence of what makes a church strong, stable, welcoming, and vibrant.
John and Judy were friends and couldn’t have been more different. John was quiet and unassuming, deeply reflective and thoughtful. He looked like he was sleeping through many of my sermons with eyes closed and arms folded. He wasn’t, he assured me with a smile. Judy bubbled with life, wore her heart on her sleeve, and seldom left you wondering what she was thinking or feeling. Both were extremely non-judgmental having seen enough of life to embrace the mantra, ‘There but for the grace of God go I.’ In my darkest of days they both reached out with sensitivity and affirmed me with hope for a brighter future when others had withdrawn and were silent. I will never forget their faithful friendship no matter what, and their kindness.
I visited both John and Judy not long before their deaths and I know that they were more than ready to cross the threshold and begin a new chapter. So while we grieve their passing and celebrate their lives I’m confident of them wanting us to know that they’re at peace, and probably more alive than they’ve ever been.
As we reflect on Judy’s life credit must go to her longtime friend Lynn Burnip, who helped me collate a few memories; her words are mingled with mine in what follows.
Judy Henry was born in Powell River, British Columbia, in 1942. Her father was a mill worker and by all accounts those early years were challenging. Eventually Judy trained in Vancouver as a nurse, married Pat (a teacher), and relocated to Port Alberni in 1969. Before long two children, Dean and Michael, filled out the family much to Judy’s delight.
Lynn writes: Judy was very witty with huge sense of humour, she could keep a roomful of people laughing…Rick would says she’s one of the funniest people he knew. Her career was nursing. She worked in the hospital, mainly in public health and community nursing.
Judy was caring, hugely compassionate, and worked in service of others all her life. She taught me (Lynn) so much about how to just ‘be’ with people, especially those who struggle with life. People on the street were drawn to her. You couldn’t walk down the street and people would be calling out to her and giving her a hug…she was a hugger! . At one point Judy in her job as a nurse ministered to the ” boat” refugee people and all the people with TB in the Alberni Valley
She was able to walk into another’s pain and bring relief.
Judy had a profound and deep introduction to the reality of God and Jesus which drew her even deeper into a life of service and particularly prayer. She was part of a group I took to Honduras many years ago and I still recall her willingness to jump in and do whatever was required with great zest and laughter.
Some of the roots of Judy’s empathy were no doubt formed through the very real struggles and challenges in her own life journey. Unfortunately Judy’s marriage came to an end and she had to learn to readjust; a task she faced with sadness but with courageous acceptance. Later she would walk alongside her son Michael who battled for ten years with brain cancer. We had a great celebration in thanksgiving for his brave, and far too brief a life.
Judy spoke through tears in front of hundreds in attendance of her love for Michael and her thankfulness to Jesus. She also deeply loved her son Dean , daughter in law Gloria, and grandson Hilo. She didn’t see them as often as she would have liked but loved and thought of them every day.
Sadly in her last years Judy became less mobile and dementia began to take hold. Despite it’s muddled and cruel grip it could never rob Judy of her faith and smile. I am sure as you read this Judy will be dancing in heaven’s doorway!
John Jemson was born in London, England, on November 6th, 1929 (we shared the same birthday and exchanged greetings for many years). He told me how he was shipped out of London into the country as a child during the War. John qualified at Guy’s Hospital, London, in 1953, achieving the Gold Medal in Surgery. In March, 1955 in Pinner, Middlesex, he married Barbara Mary Duke. They emigrated to Manitoba, Canada in 1957 and eventually settled in Port Alberni in 1976.
John and Barbara were engaged and active members of Jericho Road and its earlier expressions for many years. They had an extremely broad range of friends and interests embracing people from all walks of life, social status, and professions. John was a scientist and grappled with issues of faith and was unafraid to ask the difficult questions. I respected him for that. He was also very instrumental during a period of struggles in the church in helping (almost like a midwife) to birth and nurture Jericho Road. Another place he loved was the garden and he took great delight in giving tours to anyone who was interested, or even if you weren’t so much.
I asked one of his daughters, Elizabeth, to share a few thoughts about her dad.
There is so much I could say about the wonderful but imperfect man I loved so much and called Dad for 56 years of my life.
He was a great Dad to me, my younger sister, and our 3 older brothers. My Dad was the kindest, most loving, caring, gentle and patient man I have ever known. He also had a wonderful, goofy sense of humor. Dad liked to give unique names to the most ordinary things, whether it be the car, a boat, our pets, or me and my sister. (although we are far from ordinary!)
When I was quite small my Dad gave me the nickname Tooty, and that is the only name I ever remember him calling me. I don’t ever remember him calling me Elizabeth, it was always Tooty or Toot. Whenever I called home and he answered the phone he would call out to Mum and say “it’s Tooty on the phone” I can still hear him saying that…..makes me happy and sad at the same time. Dad also blessed my younger sister with the nickname Pinkle, which is what he always called her, I can’t ever remember him calling her Lucinda.
Growing up I was very close to my Dad, he was always there to listen, no matter how long a day he had put in at the office. He was always interested in what I was doing and only ever wanted the best for me. Dad worked long hours at his General Practice, and I was a witness to how hard he worked as I spent one summer working in the office when I was on break from nursing school in Winnipeg. He was much loved by his patients, and well respected by his medical colleagues.
Dad’s death has left a big hole in my heart, and the rest of my family. He was so loved by our family, and my kids miss him every day. I don’t think he knew what a big impact he had on our lives and the lives of so many others. I’m so thankful that we were able to celebrate his 90th birthday in November with so many family and close friends. Dad really enjoyed the day, it was his last Hurrah!
Now, he is with Jesus in Heaven, happily gardening, or setting up a model railway… I know I will see him again.
Barbara, John’s wife of sixty four years, is being well looked after in a Care Home in Sydney, Victoria. Our thoughts, prayers, and love extend to her, James (Helen), Lucinda (Mike), Steven (Rose), Paul (Lucy), Elizabeth (Phil), ten grandchildren and two great grandchildren.
Of course we could fill pages with anecdotes and stories but this will have to suffice. We wanted to raise John and Judy’s flags high, salute, declare that their lives mattered and were noticed, that they were deeply loved and appreciated, and that they are missed by many.
Both John and Judy loved music. Of course as John was older he gets the choice of an English College Choir for Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus to see them out and welcome them home. John’s raised eyebrow would possibly be accompanied by Judy’s giggle….