For much of her life – extending well into her grandmother years – Lorene Jones was a go-getter with a deep-rooted passion for growth and development in South Memphis.
The 88-year-old community matriarch passed away last Sunday, Oct. 27.
“Lorene Jones was a grandmother, and she organized the other grandmothers into the South Memphis Citizens United For Action,” said the Rev. Marlon Foster. “She got involved in everything from policy to political will and civic engagement. Nothing happened in South Memphis that Mrs. Jones didn’t know about.
“But it was at the moment that I saw the new Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell sitting in her living room that I realized this was a rite of passage for elected officials,” Foster said. “She even had her own cable talk show for a while.”
In neighborhoods along Mississippi Boulevard and around the LeMoyne-Owen College area, Jones is remembered fondly. In recent years, a stroke and a diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease had made it impossible for her to live alone any longer in her house on Mississippi Boulevard, where she had raised two daughters.
“She was always so independent and had given her whole life to taking care of other people, it was difficult for her to be dependent on us,” said Patricia Williams, the younger of her two daughters. “Mother loved South Memphis and didn’t want to leave, but she came to live with us out east in unincorporated Shelby County.”
Her mother never lost the determination to do things herself, Williams said. “She wasn’t sick a long time. She just began to get down these last few months.”
The Rev. Roger R. Brown of Greater White Stone Baptist Church was Mrs. Jones’ pastor the last few years of her life.
“I first met Mrs. Jones in the early 1990s when we were trying to start the Weed and Seed Program. It was funded by the federal government. Violent criminals and drug dealers were to be weeded out, and positive efforts seeded in their place,” Brown said.
“I remember the boundaries were just short of including her neighborhood. And she said, ‘Oh no, y’all got to include us. We’re going to have to be a part of this. You’re going to have to re-draw those boundaries.’”
Jones’ community organization had no big grants for support back then. Members paid dues, and people did what they could.
“They didn’t have a lot of money, but they were able to do big things,” said Foster of Mrs. Jones’ community organization. “Mrs. Jones and women like my grandmother, Doris Maddrie, would feed the entire West Precinct of MPD.”
Lorene Jones was born in Brooksville, Miss., the sixth of seven children born to Everlina Brooks and Henry Doss. Her older sister lived in Memphis and Lorene was sent to live with her sister so she could attend Hamilton High School. The family later followed.
“Mother had us very young, and she got married young too, but she was a single mother. She was a beautician and rented a place to run her own business. Next, she bought a house on Mississippi Boulevard. We lived there, and Mother remodeled the front of the house into a beauty shop,” Williams said.
“My grandmother and grandfather lived with us before they died. I remember grandmother Everlina saying her mother was free-born back when there were still slaves.”
Her mother’s days started in the beauty shop at six in the morning and sometimes extended until the next morning.
“There would be no welfare or food stamps for us. She believed in working. Back then, grocery stores let you charge your groceries. She would charge ours and other families, too. If she heard about someone at school not having any food, she made sure they had something, too. My sister and I called her a busy-body.”
Pastor Brown will eulogize Mrs. Jones on Saturday.
“Mrs. Jones was honored as a mother of the church,” he said. “She taught the younger women just like the Bible instructs older women to do. Not only was she an activist of social and economic matters, but she was spiritual, also.”
Visitation is set for 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. at Greater White Stone Baptist Church, 917 S. Wellington St., with the funeral immediately afterwards. Harrison Funeral Home has charge.