Inez Jefferson, 100: Devoted long life to work, family history, others

Inez Jefferson was a simple lady. She never had a car, nor a driver’s license. She never married, never had kids. “She was never about material things,” her nephew, Royce Jefferson, said. But she touched many people through her demonstrative dedication to living a good life.

Jefferson was born Jan. 4, 1916 in Palmetto, Ga. and died June 7 at a hospice in Fayetteville at the age of 100.

When Michael Jefferson was young, he said his great aunt would try to keep him from getting lazy. He said will always remember her “can-do attitude,” which was always a great motivator for him.

“I know firsthand the dedication she had,” he said. “One of the things that always stuck with me was her saying, ‘If you’re on time, you’re late, if you’re early, you’re on time.’ ”

To inspire her great nephew, Inez told him how she used to have to walk uphill to school, in the snow, both ways, every day.

About 60 years ago, Inez’s morning routine for getting to work would start at 4:30. She would get prepared to walk to Palmetto to catch the Greyhound bus, then ride the bus from Palmetto to Atlanta, where she could catch a train from Atlanta to the West End.

“This was like a ritual,” Michael said. “This was like five days a week, for years, until she retired.”

Inez worked at the Children’s Store in Atlanta for decades. Michael said she was a great inspiration who had the same dedication and motivation about everything she did.

“Now we have access to everything, but not having it back then and sticking with it? It’s hard for us to stick with a job for 30 or 40 years. You very rarely see that at all now. But for her to do that and to retire and to do it in the manner she did, that always stuck with me — that you can do anything. You can do anything that you put your mind to.”

Sharon “Liz” Love, Inez’s cousin, said she was a sweet and mild lady. And to say Inez had interest in history would be putting it mildly. “She was a walking history book,” Love said. Not just for local or national history, but also for her family history. She had direct ties to Thomas Jefferson’s freed slaves.

Local historian Carole Harper said she and Inez “got to be really good friends over the years” as she worked on her family’s genealogy. “I always thought her Jefferson family wasn’t from this area,” Harper said. And she was right. She said they looked at census data as far back as the 1850s and there was no “Jefferson” to be found.

Harper had a long conversation with Inez about about how her family made it to the South. The story goes that when the Civil War ended, slaves were freed with no place to go and no place to call home. “Her grandfather and grandmother were slaves,” Harper said. The family packed up their belongings and made their way to Georgia because they knew they had cousins in a town called Savannah.

“I just thought she was a great lady, and I loved going to see her,” Harper said.

She wanted people to know the history of the Jefferson family, Love added.

Love said Inez took care of them after her dad died, and Michael said his great aunt “mentally adopted” him as a son. Inez always seemed to be looking for ways to help people and brighten their day. “The main things was having her to talk to and spend time with,” Love said.

Inez Jefferson was also longtime member of J.S. Hammond Missionary Baptist Church, a church she helped found, and the Rev. W.R. Starks had been her pastor for the past 32 years. She was a faithful financial supporter and a devoted usher for many years.

She believed, and wanted people to know, that “all things are possible through Christ.”