IN MEMORIAM: JANET YOUNG FULFORD
I have lost the most precious, loving, caring, and beautiful person I have ever known and who has ever been a part of my life! But as an elderly lady in a nursing home once said to me many years ago, “Nothing is ever lost when you know where it is!” Jan was not an “it”; she was a living, vivacious, caring, loving soul with a heart as big, as pure, and as kind as ever resided in the body of any human being. She passed from this life on May 22, 2021. My efforts to express my love and feelings for her and to write a tribute to her and her beautiful life will fall so very, very short of what she deserves.
I remember the first time I saw her. I was standing in line in the quadrangle at Freed-Hardeman College in Henderson, Tennessee, waiting for the cafeteria to open. It was September 17, 1956. I had been invited to return to campus a few days early to assist with freshman orientation. In line several feet up ahead of me was the most beautiful girl I thought I had ever seen. I said to myself, “I am going to meet that young lady.” I kept my eye on her and noted where she was seated in the cafeteria. As luck (God’s divine providence) would have it, there was a vacant seat at her table and I made my way to it. Three or four others were also at the table, I introduced myself to them, and they all told me their names. I remember only one – Jan Young!
After dinner, Jan and I took a stroll around the campus and began a pattern of meeting each other in the cafeteria for meals and seeing each other between classes. We began dating. There was no one else for me. Three hundred and fifty-five days after meeting, we were united in marriage on September 7, 1957 in her high school hometown of Loudon, Tennessee. We were married for 63 years, eight months, and fifteen days! We always celebrated two anniversaries—our wedding anniversary on September 7 and the anniversary of our first meeting on September 17.
Janet (Jan) Faye Young was born on November 3, 1937 in Parsons, Kansas, the youngest of three children born to George Hurley Young and Lela Mae Rude Young. Her older sister, Delores Mae Young Hesse, and her husband, William (Bill) Hesse, continue to live in Topeka, Kansas. Her brother, Robert (Bob) Eugene Young (the middle child), died in 2015. Jan’s early years were spent in Kansas. She was baptized into Christ at the Central Church of Christ in Topeka in 1949 when she was eleven years old. She and her parents moved to Loudon, Tennessee in 1952 where Jan went to high school. She was a popular and well-liked student, serving as a cheerleader and being active in other extra-curricular activities.
After Jan and I were married and I had finished my studies at Freed-Hardeman University, I began full-time ministry, first serving a small church in Louisville, Kentucky. Subsequent moves took us to several locations in Tennessee, two in Alabama, and one in Texas. Jan was always by my side, supporting me in my work. She was an ideal preacher’s wife. A preacher friend of mine called me a few days after Jan’s passing and said of her, “She was a lady of grace, poise, and beauty. She was a perfect preacher’s wife.” She was kind, thoughtful, respectful of other people, and did not desire the limelight. Through the years, as I chose to move from one congregation to another, I was told more than once, “Hugh, you are free to leave and move to another church if you want to, but we will keep Jan!”
Jan gave birth to two sons—Bryan Young Fulford (1958-1993) and Brett Anthony Fulford, born in 1962. She loved them both unconditionally and took tremendous pride in their lives and their accomplishments. She was there for them even when my work required that I be away from home. She adored Brett’s wife, Karen, and no daughter-in-law ever had a better and more loving mother-in-law than Karen had in Jan. For the last twenty years of her life her grandchildren—Bryce and Carson—took center stage. When they were little they each would spend a day every week at our house or Jan would spend a day at their house. “Grandma” always had special treats and special plans for those days. We are saddened that she did not live to see Carson’s graduation from high school or Bryce’s wedding. She met Bryce’s fiancé, Siera Hagan, was able to spend time with her, and fell in love with her.
Jan was a natural born teacher. In fact, as Brett our son said, “Teaching was her passion.” She taught school for 31 years. She finished high school in three years and taught school for one year on a special permit before she ever went to college. She did not have her degree when we married but her unrelenting persistence drove her to continue her studies, obtaining her B.S. degree in Early Childhood Education in 1970 from Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee. She already had a teaching position in Lebanon, Tennessee where we were living when she graduated from Austin Peay. (She did further studies at several other universities where we lived over the years). As Brett again noted, “Every place she ever taught over the years was always the ‘best,’ and every class was always the ‘best.’” She was a positive, upbeat person who sincerely loved her children, they loved her, and she was loved and admired by all of her teaching colleagues. Suzan Meyer of Dallas, one of Jan’s dearest friends and colleagues, said of her, “I’ve never been blessed to know and love a more beautiful human being…she lived and loved well.”
Following a twelve year teaching stint at The Meadowview School in the Dallas suburb of Mesquite, Jan was honored by the school with “Janet Fulford Day.” A scholarship was funded in her name, her room was named in her honor with her name plaque placed on the door, many glowing tributes were made to her, and the Mayor of Mesquite proclaimed October 22, 1995 “Janet Fulford Day” in Mesquite, Texas. A beautiful reception was held in her honor attended by faculty, staff, board members, and students, along with a host of friends from the Skillman Church of Christ in Dallas.
Jan was always active in teaching children in the Bible School programs of the churches I served. She was a good student of the Bible, read and studied it regularly, and loved teaching it to children and young people. She loved the Lord and the church, and they were always first in her life. She heard a lot of preaching over the course of her life, not only from me, but from many well-known and faithful gospel preachers. She loved and appreciated good preaching and good preachers. Some of her favorites were G. K. Wallace, Batsell Barrett Baxter, Jim Bill McInteer, and B. C. Goodpasture. She knew when a preacher was true to the Book and when he was not.
Jan’s teaching extended far beyond the school room and the Bible class room. She taught our two boys by word, deed, and example. It was important to her that our sons know how to do things around the house—dust furniture, run a vacuum, clean a bathroom, clean up the kitchen, clean the oven of a stove (before the days of self-cleaning ovens), wash dishes, make up their beds, iron clothes, etc., etc. She taught them to take care of what they had, whether it was their clothes, their toys, their bicycles, their pets, or (later) their cars.
In Shelbyville, Tennessee we owned two horses and Jan spent a lot of time “fooling” with them. She and Brett spent many hours feeding, grooming, and caring for the horses, as well as for a small herd of cattle that Brett raised and sold and a litter of German Shepherd pups that he raised and sold. (By this time Bryan was away in college). She loved animals and helped Brett with his horse, cattle, and dog ventures. She was a loving and supportive mother, reliable, dependable, always “on the ready” regardless of what needed to be done. She marvelously balanced her role as a preacher’s wife, mother, and teacher and was a person of tremendous physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual energy.
Jan loved to walk and to exercise. She and friends at the various places we lived spent many hours walking the roads or in the neighborhoods where we lived. She literally wore out two or three treadmills at home! In various places we lived she was a member of a health club or the Y, and spent many enjoyable hours working out at these places. She was “big” into health and fitness. She was always complimented on the beauty of her skin and how young she always looked. People wanted to know her “secret.”
Jan and I both loved to travel and over the years we enjoyed many trips together: to family reunions, visits with our respective families during the different holiday seasons of the year, gospel meetings in which I preached, etc. We vacationed in Florida, the Smoky Mountains (Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge many times), Colorado, South Padre Island in Texas (with a walking trip from Brownsville, Texas over into Matamoras, Mexico and lunch at the famous Drive In Restaurant), St. Simons and Jekyll Islands off the coast of Georgia, spring retreats for two or three years at a condo in Pensacola where we enjoyed reading, walking the beach, and eating seafood, numerous trips to Gulf Shores and Orange Beach on the Alabama Gulf Coast, as well as several trips to Branson, Missouri. We drove the West Coast from Los Angeles to Seattle, took a ten day fall tour of New England, traveled much of the East Coast, spent several days in Washington, D. C., and took an extended trip to Yellowstone, the Tetons, and Mount Rushmore, visiting Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, the Dakotas, and Nebraska. In 1994 we took a cruise to Alaska, a gift from a church we served for twelve years, with a side trip to Victoria and Vancouver Island.
Jan possessed the striking beauty of a Hollywood movie star. As one of her favorite preachers, the late Jim Bill McInteer, said of her, “Jan is beautiful of face and form.” But her beauty was not just outward. As has been noted scores of times in the tributes to her since her passing, she was as beautiful inwardly as she was outwardly. There was no guile, envy, pettiness, or littleness in her. She loved me and our two sons without reservation. She rejoiced in whatever success I have had and always let me know that she was proud of me. She cared for our older son during the last days of his life as no doctor or nurse could have cared for him. She adored Brett, his wife Karen, and our two grandchildren, Bryce and Carson, and they reciprocated that love. As Jan lay dying, Karen was on the bed beside her speaking soft words of comfort, patting her arm and shoulder, and reassuring her that everything was going to be alright.
I could write a book about Jan and still not do her justice. I hurt as her health began to fail during the last two years of her life, and especially during these last months leading up to her decease. Her doctors and nurses did all that they knew to do, but to no avail. The nurses and techs at the rehab center where she spent the last six weeks of her life fell in love with her and wept at her passing. She passed from this life at 8:50 p.m. (CDT) on Saturday, May 22. Her funeral was held on Thursday, May 27. Steve Baggett, one of her “Sunday School boys” from our days in Clarksville, Tennessee and later an associate minister with me in Shelbyville, Tennessee, and Alan Highers, a friend since our college days, conducted the service. Her body was laid beside that of our older son in Cedar Grove Cemetery in Lebanon, Tennessee to await the resurrection and a new body. That her spirit resides in the Paradise of God I have not the slightest doubt!
June 1, 2021