I didn't know her that well, since I sorta took her job. She was a Teacher of the Gifted over at Jefferson MS, and had been for years and years and years. I didn't know it going into my interview for the gig, but she'd decided to become a counselor.
So I got her job, her desk, and she moved down the very busy hall to a even busier counseling office.
We have a pretty stable staff at Jefferson, and while I didn't know her everybody else sure did. And loved her. She was hard not to admire, and I was in awe of her from the get-go. She had built this great program that I just stumbled into, and I felt damn lucky just to be sitting in her chair at her desk, looking over her room everyday. I spent serious time trying real hard not to mess up the great thing.
And like everyone else I loved her too. Nicest person you'd ever want to meet. Unfailingly nice. Mind-alteringly nice. Nice bad counseling day or good, during horrible stretches of "Middle School is Hell" weeks, and even when the person talking to her wasn't that nice.
I was that not nice person on more than one occasion...and she never stooped to my level. She was a rock in a building full of interpersonal sand.
And then a year of so ago, she found out she had cancer. Really bad cancer. And naturally she handled the news in a way that redefines the word "aplomb". Not showy, "oooh, I have cancer", and not morose and self-pitying. Just herself being her great self.
Not knowing what to say to her in those first few days of diagnosis I stupidly told her I couldn't think of a better person to get cancer. And that looks really bad even typed now, a year or so later..but what I meant was that nobody could possibly be better equipped mentally and psychologically to handle such a horrible thing. She'd proven for years she could handle anything.
The months of chemo this and medical procedure that added up, and took their heavy physical toll. Her very best friends among the staff, including women with which I now co-teach, visited her laughing and crying in equal measure. I'd hear about those meetings, and it was so apparent how important these sessions were for everyone, especially those visiting the "patient". Even sick and getting sicker she was still counseling, still teaching strong as ever.
And then, finally, the physical wear-and-tear just got too much, as it always does at some point, even to the very, very strongest among us.
That was last Sunday. Jeanetta Braziel died last Sunday.
And tomorrow, Thursday, those who knew, love and admired Jeanetta will more than fill a church in Nob Hill. Family of course, but also folks who taught with her for decades. Former students, will also be out in force. Lots of them. And one guy who feels selfishly lucky to have inherited her chair, desk and room, but even more selfishly fortunate to have had spent at least some time around her.
She was the kind of person that makes you count the minutes you're with her, because you want to get as many as you can.
My closing is corny...but you always liked corny, Jeanetta. Besides, you're from the South, just like me.
Happy trails, Jeanetta. Happy trails.