She reached high and captured respect

By STEPHANIE HAYES, Times Staff Writer
Published December 15, 2007

TARPON SPRING - Janie Jones Wilson had high standards and a way of getting respect from her students. But she never hollered.

Once, a little boy in her elementary school class said, "Hey Janie."

"I am not Janie," she said with a smile. "I am Mrs. Wilson."

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She was an only child. Her father was a carpenter and a brick mason who built some of the original houses in Tarpon Springs, her family said. Her parents valued education.

By 1953, she had earned associate's, bachelor's and master's degrees - in days of segregation, a huge feat for a black woman. After high school, her mother said get a job and pay rent, or go to college. It was an easy choice.

Mrs. Wilson taught elementary school at one of the first black schools in Pinellas, Union Academy. She was later principal at Chase Memorial school in Dunedin, her family said.

She taught students etiquette, people skills, dance and music, on top of English and history and math. And there were no breaks for her daughter, Janie Wilson, who was in her mother's class.

"I couldn't get away with anything," said Williams, 62. "We'd come home and she'd say, 'You sit right there and do your lesson.' I couldn't ask her anything. She'd make me look for the information while she was cooking."

She married Willie Wilson, the first black police officer in Tarpon Springs. He doted on her, buying her anything she wanted - high heels, dresses, jewelry, hats.

When she retired, she couldn't sit still. Mrs. Wilson worked for decades as treasurer and bookkeeper for Rose Cemetery. She served on boards and joined civic groups. She always brought green beans to meetings of Pinellas County's retired teachers.

She owned several properties, which she rented out.

She kept every record - her daughter recently found a receipt for yard work done in 1977. She found a grocery list, written in perfect cursive - whole wheat bread, eggs, milk, cat food, vinegar, canned beets.

Mrs. Wilson's fingers were rigid with arthritis. She would massage them and sit down to play piano. Two weeks ago, she played at church.

On Monday, Mrs. Wilson had a heart attack. She died at age 90.

* * *

Rodean Finley was Mrs. Wilson's student at Union Academy School. She stayed close to her teacher, visiting her at home every day and caring for her into old age.

Finley is 70 years old. She still won't call her teacher "Janie."

She is Mrs. Wilson.

Stephanie Hayes can be reached at shayes@sptimes.com or 727 893-8857.


Janie Jones Wilson

Born: June 26, 1917.

Died: Dec. 10, 2007.

Survivors: daughter, Janie Williams; aunt, Deborah Hogans; friends, Rodean and Richard Finley.

Services: Noon Saturday at Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church, 448 Oakwood St., Tarpon Springs. Everett-Derr & Anderson Funeral Home.