As civil servants go, Teresa Jones was willing to be measured by her attentiveness to those she committed to serve and the reaction to her death over the weekend reflected that she hit that mark with regularity.
The Memphis Municipal Court Judge and former Shelby County Schools board member died Saturday evening after losing her battle with cancer. She was 61.
Jones’ death quickly moved colleagues, classmates, long-time family friends, member organizations and others to share what is an ongoing stream of heart-felt tributes and expressions.
“We have suffered the great loss of a great lady,” said State Rep. Barbara Cooper. “You could always count on her to do her homework. That was especially true on the school board. She always worked for the people and did all she could to give our children a quality education. A great servant, she will be greatly missed.”
The Memphis Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority posted on Judge Jones’ Facebook page: “The Memphis Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority joins with family and loved ones of the Honorable Judge Teresa Jones in grieving the loss of one of Shelby County’s longtime public servants. …We remember her life and celebrate her legacy as a civil servant…”
Jones, whose services on the school board included tenure as president, was an attorney by profession, having served as chief city prosecutor for the City of Memphis Law Division, a post she took on in May of 2013.
Prior to that time, Jones worked as a senior trial attorney and supervisor in the Shelby County Public Defender’s Office. She taught in adjunct professor posts at both the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys Law School and LeMoyne-Owen College.
She was appointed to the Municipal Court by Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland early in 2019 and was a decisive victory in the October General Election that same year.
“My journey to becoming a judge began in the 1980s when I enrolled in the University of Memphis Law School after graduating from Lane College in 1981,” she once wrote in a candidate survey exchange with The New Tri-State Defender. “But for me, all roads lead back to a small farm community outside Holly Springs, Mississippi (Chulahoma), where I grew up. I learned the value of working hard, setting goals and being a person of integrity from the love and values that my parents instilled in me and my siblings.”
Jones said her entire legal career had been dedicated to “representing and advocating for average citizens, who often feel that they don’t have a voice and will not be treated fairly in Court.
“I believe citizens have a right to have their cases heard by an experienced, honest and fair Judge. I am that Judge. I also make sure citizens are treated with respect and are allowed the opportunity to be heard. But most importantly, when citizens enter my court, I make sure they feel the decision will be made based on the law after fully hearing all witnesses and both sides of the proof.”
Mayor Strickland said, “…I was honored to appoint Teresa to the Memphis Municipal Court, Division 1. …Fortunately, I had the opportunity earlier in the week, not knowing it would be my last, to express those exact feelings to her…”
The United Education Association of Shelby County posted on Jones’ Facebook page Saturday night:
“Tonight, we honor the life and legacy of former School Board Member and Judge Teresa Jones. She was a true advocate for students…we are better because of you. RIL! (Rest in Love!)
Shelby County Commissioner Van Turner lauded Jones with reflections of her days on the school board:
“Rest In Peace and Love, Judge Teresa Jones! We never had to guess where you were on a vote when you were on the school board because you were always with the people. I was so happy for you when you finally achieved your longtime goal of becoming a judge. We appreciate you! We love you, and we thank you for your service!”
A Lane College classmate, Voresa Booker, posted: “My beautiful classmate, Judge Teresa Jones, gained her wings yesterday. To know her was to love her…RIH, T! We will forever miss you.” (RIH is Rest in Heaven) #LaneCollegeClassof ’81.”
A classmate from high school noted that Jones was salutatorian in her 1977 high school class at Byhalia High School.
Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer called Jones “a pioneer for elected Black women.”
Rep. Antonio Parkinson, chairman of the Shelby County Delegation of State Legislators, said Jones made, “fairness and impartiality her priority while sitting on the bench. She was a fierce member and chair of SCS School board. More importantly she was our friend.”
Services are pending for Jones, a member of Midtown Church of Christ.