For many months this wonderful person battled breast cancer with grace and dignity, and most of all with courage.
During these months I told her often that she was the bravest person I ever knew, and I meant it.
I know that her deep faith in God is what gave her strength and that while she is no longer here on this Earth with us, she has now gone to heaven to be with Him.
When I say life-long friends I mean it, because we played in the crib when we were just babies, attended Mrs. Hamby’s kindergarten together, sat by each other in grade school, were cheerleaders together, double-dated in high school and went to the same college where we lived together one summer.
And that was just the beginning of our lives as best friends.
Losing a best friend, I have sadly found, is like losing a right arm. Because she was always there beside me, cheering me on, holding my hand when I needed it, laughing with me, crying with me and doling out advice.
For her friends and family, Jeannie was always the go-to person to settle disputes, solve problems, share a secret or seek guidance. She was wise and compassionate, loving and kind.
She saw us clearly and loved us anyway.
Life was not always easy, but whatever challenge arose, Jeannie met it head-on and unflinchingly.
Jeannie was a humble person, and she always thought of others first, something that is all too rare. She was innately polite, a true Southern lady in the purest and deepest sense of the phrase.
But when she needed to she was never averse to speak her mind and stand up for her high principles.
She led by her example, and she made an impact on my life by showing me how to be a better person, even if I wasn’t always able to live up to her standard.
Jeannie was a great mother. She loved her children and all her family, they were her life and breath.
I remember her bringing her son, Jeffrey, to my mother’s when he was about 4 years old and sitting with him in the living room.
She expected that energetic little red-haired boy to be on his best behavior and he was, no small feat, and she did it with just a word and a glance.
I wondered then if I could ever make my children behave so well.
That is how she was with all of us, she set an example and brought out the best in us.
So many times in my life she kept me from make big mistakes. I don’t even know how she managed it, but she did.
I remember us as little girls, walking to McCanless Park and swinging in the swings there, pushing up toward the bright blue sky and the sunshine.
We would kick our legs in the air and laugh and talk about when we grew up, what we wanted to be, our dreams of family and husbands, of how we would live out our lives together.
Life seemed so endless then, without boundaries, as wide as the sky we seemed to be flying toward as we swung higher and higher in an exhilarating way that left us breathless.
I remember us sitting together in sixth grade at Canton Elementary during the time after lunch when we were allowed to talk, in one of those old desks that could hold two if you squeezed close, laughing and sharing secrets.
I think back to the times we went to camp meeting together, sleeping in a big feather bed, staying awake late into the night to talk about boys and life in general.
I remember being in each other’s weddings, and how full of promise life looked as we walked down those aisles of the church to embrace our futures.
I cherish the Friday nights we all gathered at Jeannie’s when our children were little, to celebrate the end of the week, and laugh and talk around the kitchen table while our children played.
The time seems to have flown by since those days when we were young and I sit now and wonder where it went.
Through it all, Jeannie has held my hand and been there each day of my life, as close as any family member.
I don’t think of Jeannie as my sister, although some would say we were as close as sisters.
Our relationship was something different, a bond that allowed us to be ourselves, to share our deepest hopes and dreams and have someone who understood who and want we were, a deep and precious friendship.
Jeannie blessed my life, and many, many others, and we were lucky to have her.
She was the best and already we miss her so much.
Rebecca Johnston is managing editor of The Cherokee Tribune.