I had no idea I would be writing this memorial tribute when we decided to celebrate Women’s History Month by honoring women who exemplify all that Families as Allies stands for. I am heartbroken that life has brought us to this juncture. I am touched and humbled to share my thoughts about someone who made such a difference. I struggle to try to find the words to express the love, sorrow, and gratitude in my heart.
Jo Turlington passed away on March 13, 2022. She was one of the best people I have ever known.
I met Jo in the late 1990s. She was the assistant director of children’s mental health services at Catholic Charities, and I was the director. She was kind, caring and patient. She was deeply committed to setting up our programs in ways that allowed every family to feel supported and heard.
I learned to listen whenever Jo drew my attention to something. It was almost always about a real person with a real need – a child who needed services pulled together in non-traditional ways, a family who felt pushed away by systems, or an employee facing difficult personal struggles. When Jo met people, she saw their hearts. When people met Jo, they shared their hearts. She helped people find hope.
One time at a staff retreat, the leaders asked us to pick the coworker to whom we would be the most likely to tell our deepest darkest secrets. I chose Jo and explained that I had already told her all that and she loved me anyway. My guess is many others in the room were thinking the same thing.
Nobody has done more for Making A Plan (MAP) teams in the state than Jo. The Hinds County MAP team was one of the first MAP teams in Mississippi, and Jo was the facilitator. She inspired the whole team to be creative in keeping children in their homes with their families. She was fiercely devoted to including families as partners. She showed that same devotion when she later worked at the Department of Mental Health to oversee MAP teams across the state. I can still remember the look of horrified disbelief on her face when families weren’t included in discussions about them.
Jo and I once stopped at CVS on the way back from lunch because she wanted to buy her husband, Roger, something for Valentine’s Day. I noticed a man who wouldn’t stop smiling and staring at us. I whispered to Jo to alert her. She looked up and smiled at him the same way. The man was Roger, and he was there to buy Jo something for Valentine’s Day. That encounter epitomized their relationship: in sync, always thinking about each other and still hopelessly in love. If there is any small comfort we can find in no longer having Jo with us, maybe it is in knowing that she is reunited with the love of her life.
When I learned that Jo had died, I felt like I had forgotten how to breathe. I am still not sure I remember. I imagine many of you feel the same way. Jo would be the first to understand because she was filled with empathy and compassion. She would also be the first to gently encourage us not to neglect the things she knew were important. I can think of no better way to honor Jo’s life than to try to do the things she did:
- Be kind, caring and patient.
- Focus on the real needs of real people.
- Be the person people trust with their secrets.
- Fight for families to be at every table.
- If you are lucky enough to have someone you love like Jo loved Roger, stay madly in love with them.
We can also wrap our hearts, prayers and love around Jo’s precious children, Emily and Alex and their families. A celebration of Jo’s life will take place at The Masonic Lodge at the Ag Museum in Jackson on May 7, 2022.