Imogene “’Gene” Edwards taught us all how to love, how to be faithful, and how to fight; three traits she remained unmatched in, even until the end. ‘Gene’s love for her family, her children, grandkids, her friends and beloved siblings, were only matched by her extraordinary faith in God and her love for the teachings of the Bible, and the strength and compassion that she derived from both.
In April 2011, ‘Gene and Jim Edwards were both diagnosed with cancer, breast cancer stage 1 and pancreatic cancer stage 4, respectively. Jim passed less than two months later, they had been married for 52 years. ‘Gene tenaciously faced two rounds of breast cancer, a double-mastectomy and small cell lung cancer over the next eight years. She battled on, each round taking its toll. She fiercely survived and lived to share so many memories with her family and some “over-performing” grandkids who graduated from high schools and colleges, married, competed, acted, sang, and danced in the years that followed her first diagnosis. She was a warrior, and remained determined to see the fruits of her legacy on this earth. Gentle and caring, tough and protective, she was the Lioness of the Pride.
Last fall, after moving back to Mississippi to be near her youngest grandchildren, ‘Gene was injured at a local mall after driving there to shop for a dress for a very special occasion. She faced the surgery to her damaged hip and rehabilitation that followed with the same grace, grit and reckless abandon as being the First Lady of Plano, Texas, during the late 1970s and early 1980s, and as well as performing duties as First Lady to William Carey University in Hattiesburg in the 1990s. But the physical exertion was difficult, and will was losing to strength.
As the complications of the injury continued to take their toll, she vowed to celebrate her 80th birthday on March 8. She named some invitees, she ordered a “homemade” coconut crème cake and “strongly suggested” the lunch menu. Surprised by friends from a distance, and family unexpected, the “guardian angel” of us was surrounded by so many angels at that celebration. Pictures and videos and memories abounded, and streamers and flowers and birthday candles were prominent. And when the party was over, ‘Gene was ecstatic, and thankful, and happy, and very tired. So early that evening, she decided to nap. With her head and her heart full of dreams and laughter and love and life, of that day and 80 years before, she drifted asleep. And never woke up. Just as she and God had always planned.
Frances Imogene Jackson Edwards, known to friends and family as ‘Gene or Mama Gene or Aunt Imogene, was born March 8, 1939 in rural Bowling Green, Ky., the oldest daughter of five children of Raymond and Roberta (Brooks) Jackson, who raised their family on a small farm in Bristow, a small community at the north end of town. With a father who worked for the state highway department building roads and bridges and raised tobacco on the farm, and a mother who toiled the day-shift as a seamstress at the Fruit of the Loom factory, ‘Gene was tasked with managing the house and her siblings from a young age, where hard work, God fearing church lessons, and music were the daily bread of this family. During high school ‘Gene got the opportunity to sing on the radio in nearby Nashville before graduating from Bristow School.
In 1958 she met James Wyatt “Jim” Edwards while she was attending Bowling Green College of Commerce, and he was attending Western Kentucky University. On May 10, 1959 they were married at Jackson Grove Baptist in Bristow, in the namesake church ‘Gene and her family grew up in. Jim then led ‘Gene on an academic whirlwind that would span more than five decades from University of Indiana in Bloomington (where son Randy was born) to Indiana State University in Indianapolis (where daughter Jamye was born) to Michigan State in Lansing, University of Virginia in Charlottesville, back to WKU, and then Texas, where they would stay for the next 20 years in Fort Worth (five years) and Plano (15 years, where daughter Allison was born). ‘Gene and Jim would then venture to Tennessee and finally to Mississippi for a total of 10 years, before heading back to Plano, Texas, where they would stay until Jim’s passing in 2011. And finally, ‘Gene would return to Mississippi almost three years ago to be near her youngest grandchildren, Jack, 8, and Grace, 14.
Plano was home for many years — Jim was mayor for two terms in the 1970s and 1980s, and ‘Gene co-founded the Plano Preservation Association, a precursor to the Plano Heritage Commission and Plano Preservation Society, she was instrumental in preserving two Plano landmarks — The George House, which sits in Old City Park in Dallas, and the Plano Inter-Urban, the train-subway car that sits in Haggard Park — as well as countless other historical structures around Plano’s Historical Downtown. ‘Gene served Plano’s Park Board in the 1980s and 1990s during a time when the city was investing heavily in one of the largest city park systems in Texas.
‘Gene, Jim and the family were active members of Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth, beginning in 1968, and First Baptist Church of Plano starting in 1976. She was a frequent guest at Creekwood United Methodist Church in Allen, Texas, and holds membership at First Baptist Church in Laurel.
‘Gene worked at The Children’s Workshop, a private pre-K and early elementary level school, and was an owner of several antique stores in Old Downtown Plano during the 1980s. After returning to Plano from Mississippi in 1997, ‘Gene worked for a series of homebuilding companies on the sales and closing team until she and Jim were both diagnosed in 2011.
‘Gene is survived by her three children, Randy Edwards and wife Leah of Lucas, Texas, Jamye Ferguson and her husband Lee of Marshall, Texas, and Allison Travis and her husband Mike of Laurel; plus seven grandchildren, Daniel “Steele” Ferguson (Halee), Abigail Ferguson Drake (Josh) and Sarah Ferguson, Audrey and Natalie Edwards, and Grace and Jackson Edwards Travis. She is also survived by her brother Leroy Jackson and sisters Nellie White, Regina Bright, and Diane Reynolds and her husband Jimmy; brother-in-law Pat Edwards and his wife Nancy; sister-in-law Janis Knox; and 20 nieces and nephews. Also surviving ‘Gene are her cousin Leon Jackson and aunt Sally Carter.
Preceding her in death were her husband of 52 years Jim Edwards; her father and mother Raymond and Roberta Jackson; mother-in-law Margaret Edwards; and father-in-law; Wyatt Edwards.
Frances Imogene Jackson Edwards is our mother, our grandmother, our sister, our cousin, our truest friend and greatest confidant. She is the toughest, most tenacious and beautiful soul that any of us have ever known or may ever know again. She shaped our lives, she changed our lives, she made us better than most of us believed we could be. She is a warrior for Christ and for her children, her grandchildren, her family and all of those who are blessed to call her friend. Our Lioness gone to be with the Lion, our Angel gone to be with her God.
Blessings and special thanks to Dr. Lisa Bond, her oncologist in Laurel, with the hands and heart of God, who gave us the gift of these last three years with Mom. Also a special thank you to First Baptist Church in Laurel for their help and prayers and the hands and hearts of Tera Phillips and Mary Shows, who were with us every step down the stretch, caring for and loving Miss ‘Gene.
A memorial service will be at 11 a.m. on Friday, March 15, at Creekwood United Methodist Church, at 261 Country Club Road, Allen, TX 75002. In lieu of flowers, the Family is requesting that donations be made to American Cancer Society in honor of Imogene “‘Gene” Jackson Edwards. There will also be a memorial service in Kentucky this June. Details to follow.
To sign the online guestbook, visit www.memorychapellaurel.com.