By Dr. ENOLA MOSLEY
English teacher, Statesboro High School
As rare gems, jewels are precious and exude charm. Highly cherished, their appearance enchants everyone. They are beautiful, strong and memorable. Embodying all of these traits and more, an incarnate gem resides among us. She is none other than Jewel Maria Jones Edwards, a 91-year-old nonagenarian gem, whom God has favored with longevity, sagacity and creativity interwoven with ordered purpose.
Edwards’ life story is filled with struggles, determination, perseverance, romance and successes — a story that ends complacency and fosters a “do” spirit — live, attain, endeavor, strive, regroup, succeed, accomplish. Edwards lived life passionately. Consequently, as a child her nickname became “Do.” She was “always doing something.” Either “cleaning, sweeping, dusting,” but she disliked cooking. Undoubtedly, her humble beginnings and early struggles helped to shape her into the gem that she is today.
As with all gems, they have rough beginnings. Edwards’ parents, Freddie and DeVorah Sykes Jones, were lifelong sharecroppers in Register. Born June 10, 1930, Edwards was the eighth of 12 children, eight girls and four boys. The child before her was still-born; therefore, Edwards’ father insisted on a doctor’s care for her. This was the first of Jewel’s divine interventions. Growing up, she always felt as though she followed an ordered pattern: “God showed me my destiny, and I just followed the path that God showed me.” She was “always afraid of dying.” Ironically, she is the last living sibling.
Being named Jewel
Her mother named her Jewel because she wanted something that sounded “creative,” and Edwards has been living up to her destiny ever since. Gems symbolize strength and endurance, attributes that are ingrained within Edwards.
Acknowledging Edwards' gift for learning, her mother sent her to high school. However, it was not easy. At the age of 14, she woke up at 4:30 each morning to walk 2 ½ miles alone from her home to Highway 46 to catch the Greyhound bus that took her to Statesboro Industrial High School, the only Black high school. And then she had to walk back home.
Initially, she was educated in local Black church schools: first, New Hope Baptist and later St. Paul’s. According to Edwards, she “was a fast learner” and had “a hunger for knowledge.” Her favorite subject was reading, and mounds of cultural, historical, spiritual and educational books now enhance the elegant décor of her home.
When Edwards completed high school, then the 11th grade, she relocated north to Washington, D.C. She wanted to continue her education, which her required her to complete 12th grade, and she needed her Georgia records. Unfortunately, Statesboro Industrial High School had burned and all of her records were destroyed. So, she had to pass an equivalency test.
“I had to take it four times, but I passed it,” she said.
Next, she moved to New York City. This is where “her life opened up.” R.H. Macy’s hired her to help during their Easter season. Shifting from domestic employment to a $42.50 a week job was surely another blessing from God.
Meeting her husband
At this job she said that she met “the love of my life,” the late William Lloyd Edwards (deceased 1996). They met on a blind date, and unsuspectingly, this casual meeting sparked a 43-year marriage.
Her military husband encouraged Edwards to satiate her “thirst for knowledge.” As a result, she obtained almost four college degrees: associate degree in English and Reading, Bachelor of Arts in Reading and Education, master's in Reading Education, and she remains nine credits short of her Special Education degree.
In 1987, her husband’s health deteriorated. Edwards said his dream was to live in Georgia, so she returned. However, the missing credits did not hinder her employment. In fact, her notoriety as an excellent teacher preceded her, and a job awaited her upon her arrival.
Edwards taught 20 years in New York as a junior and high school Reading and English teacher. In Georgia, she and her husband worked part-time at a Georgia Southern University alternative school, educating expelled students. When they both retired, they traveled, mainly taking historical bus tours, visiting places like Virginia, California and the Grand Canyon. Gems inspire prosperity and partnerships. Gems have lasting value.
Moreover, their home was filled with children — Deborah, William Jr., Arthur Frederick, Jonathon Phillip and Mary.
Each of her children is a professional, namely, a college administrator, a retired chef, a social worker with a Ph.D., a systems engineer and a musical composer/artist schooled in architecture.
In reference to their mother’s influence, proudly, they all voice similar sentiments — “loving and loveable” and “possesses rustic resilience and elegance” and “skillful and passionate in teaching” and “comforting, unconditionally supportive, and understanding,” add “inspiring and selfless,” and most importantly, “My mom Jewel is the person that I want to be when I grow up,” said Arthur.
With pure adoration, Mary penned “A Wa(L)king Pattern,” a published poem celebrating her mother’s struggles and successes. Growing up, their home was an oasis. Whether family, friend, visitor or guest, all felt welcome. Gems reflect their light upon others. As a testament to her mother’s inner warmth, Mary treasures these words from her mom: “I have always been your mother, but now I am proud to call you my friend.”
Creative and productive
Edwards epitomizes her name — she is very creative and productive. Today, almost 200 exquisite quilts verify her craft. Moreover, she is an acclaimed author. She penned the 2010 book “Journey of a Georgia Quilt Maker.” Her notoriety can also be traced back to the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. In the book “Georgia Quilts” edited by Anita Zaleski Weinraub a notation reads: “sent to the Atlanta History Museum on March 7, 1994, for the Olympic Games held in Atlanta, Georgia in 1996.”
Her quilt, called the “North-South Double Flight,” was included in the Georgia Quilt Project and was gifted to the Netherlands flag bearer.
With decorum, her displayed quilts enrich her home; the Ohio Star is her favorite. She credits her initial skill to observing her sisters quilt and later to Judy Vogel of the Episcopal Church quilting organization, who later traveled with her on quilting trips from Florida to California.
Her daily morning devotion includes this thought: “I am grateful for life. Thank God for His beautiful gift.” The 23rd Psalm is her “driving force.” She learned it at age 2, as her mother taught her older brother. In fact, she calls her home “her green pastures.”
She attends New Hope Baptist Church with Pastor Gregory Thomas, but she has attended Trinity Episcopal Church, as well.
Peace, love and joy are her favorite words.
She has no regrets, loving plants, animals and people. Her advice is this: “Keep moving! Hold on to every dream that you dream, and never forget home.”
Like an emerald she rejuvenates. Like a diamond she shines and sparkles. Like a sapphire she is spiritual and sincere. And like a ruby wisdom and passion surround her.
What a gem! Jewel is her name.