Thursday, on what would have been his daughter Abbie’s 23nd birthday, Jimmy DeLoach Jr. of Savannah talked about turning from the pit of a parent’s grief to an effort to bring light into the world.
Abbie DeLoach was one of the five Georgia Southern University nursing students who died April 22, 2015, when a tractor-trailer rig crashed into their two vehicles and others on Interstate 16. A junior and 21 years old, she was on the verge of completing her clinical experience at a Savannah hospital and planned to make a mission trip to China with her father that summer.
“When you lose a child, there is no replacement,” Jimmy DeLoach told the Statesboro Herald. “There is nothing you can go and purchase … you cannot replace something that is irreplaceable, and any time anniversaries like her birthday or the day of the accident come up, you don’t sleep, you don’t think, you just try to exist and stay out of what a lot of people call the pit. …
“So you have to look at something outside of yourself and put your resources and your time and your effort and your heart and your love into that,” he said.
He and Abbie’s sister, Anna, recently presented a check for $30,000 from the Abbie DeLoach Foundation to the Global Outreach Fund at Compassion Church, the Savannah-headquartered church that also has a Statesboro campus. This is the start of a 10-year commitment of $30,000 annually to Compassion’s international missions program.
“Sharing Jesus and meeting the physical needs of those who can’t necessarily speak for themselves is a noble purpose, and we are thrilled to partner with the foundation in this effort,” said Compassion’s Global Outreach Pastor Dave Stewart.
Dana Whitfield, a family friend coordinating efforts of the Abbie DeLoach Foundation, supplied an announcement with the quote from Stewart and arranged the interview with DeLoach.
More coming in April
The commitment to Compassion Church is the largest, and so was announced on Abbie’s birthday, Whitfield said. But the gift is also planned as the first of many to charitable causes, through several churches and in the form of scholarships to students, to extend many years into the future. Eight continuing commitments will be announced on or around April 22, Whitfield said.
One will involve annual scholarships through another multi-community church with a Statesboro congregation, Connection Church. Although her father has been very involved with mission programs through Compassion in Savannah, Abbie attended Connection when she was at Georgia Southern, and her father went there with her, he said, mentioning a relationship with Connection Senior Pastor Brandon Williams.
“Brandon has always been there for Abbie and myself when we were up in Statesboro, and it’s a great place for a lot of college students who attend there now,” DeLoach said.
Besides including Christian ministries, the efforts he mentioned have a common theme, helping children and young adults. Photos from the mission trip DeLoach took to China in the summer of 2015, after Abbie’s death, show him interacting with children in school settings.
He and Anna had gone on a mission trip to Africa a previous year. He went on a mission trip to Greece in 2016, and plans to go to Poland this year.
“We feed the children, we clothe them, we educate them, and there’s just so much poverty in the world that you see what only $20 a month can do to actually save a child’s life,” DeLoach said. “It’s just amazing what we can do with $30,000 and in trying to build new schools and places for children to at least have an opportunity to expand their minds.”
In his last conversation with Abbie, the night before the highway crash, they talked about her plans to go on the China trip. She would have been certified as a nurse by then and wanted to put her professional skills to work, her father said.
“We talked about it that night and wished each other luck, and ‘love you,’ and all of sudden then you get a call, 6 o’clock, 7 …,” he said.
In preparation for her trip Abbie wrote, “I am ready to take a lifelong voyage with God by serving other people across the world.” Whitfield furnished the quote.
For athletes, too
The Abbie DeLoach Foundation will also fund some scholarships for student athletes. She had captained the basketball and volleyball teams and also competed in track at Savannah Christian Preparatory School, where she graduated in 2012.
“Abbie loved athletics,” her father said. “She was a very competitive person – if you could jump it 10 times, I could jump it 12. If you can hold year breath two minutes, I can hold mine five.”
Besides, Jimmy DeLoach played football as a walk-on at the University of Georgia, near the end of Erk Russell’s tenure as the Bulldogs’ defensive coordinator. After Russell began his legendary stretch as the Georgia Southern Eagles’s head coach, DeLoach came to Southern for his master’s degree and, as a graduate assistant, served under Russell as recruiting coordinator and linebacker coach from 1984 through 1986, during which time the Eagles won two national championships.
Since leaving coaching 30 years ago, he has worked in landscaping with his brother, Eddie DeLoach, now Savannah’s mayor. They own TideWater Landscape Management.
In July 2016, truck driver John Wayne Johnson, 56, of Shreveport, Louisiana, pleaded guilty in Bryan County Superior Court to first-degree vehicular homicide and other charges from the April 2015 crash and was sentenced to five years prison plus five years probation. In April 2016, civil suit settlements with the families of four of the nursing students, including Abbie DeLoach, were announced with Mississippi trucking company Total Transportation or insurers to pay more than $84 million.
“I just would say that we’re taking a very tragic situation and are able to spin it into something that is going to touch maybe thousands of people,” DeLoach said.
The sale of an annual commemorative book by the foundation will allow other people to contribute to its work, he and Whitfield announced.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.