86-year-old pulled from well at age 3 in Philadelphia searches for savior

Published 3:17 pm Saturday, August 25, 2018

PHILADELPHIA, Miss. (AP) — Philadelphia native Willard Cumberland returned last week with his son and grandson to search for a woman who saved his life when he was a child.

Cumberland was born in 1932 and lived near Cumberland Street. When he was three years old he fell down a well. His life was saved when Iris Jones, who was four years old at the time, saw him in the well and was able to pull him out.

“When I came up and tried to reach my hand out, she reached out and pulled me out,” Cumberland said.

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Cumberland grew up in Philadelphia and attended college at the University of Mississippi and the University of Southern Mississippi before hitchhiking to San Antonio, Texas, in the early 1950s.

When Cumberland’s son Shawn Cumberland heard his father’s story, he was moved. A photograph of Willard Cumberland and Iris Jones sits in Shawn Cumberland’s office.

“It has become my favorite photograph in the whole world,” Shawn Cumberland said. “It is a very powerful and moving photograph. It sits in my office as a constant reminder of how precious and random life is.”

Shawn Cumberland said the picture shows how delicate life can be.

“But for Iris, my father wouldn’t be around, I wouldn’t be around, my son and daughter wouldn’t be around and none of my brothers and their kids would be around,” he said.

The family came to Philadelphia hoping to find Jones or a member of her family to thank.

They spoke with Philadelphia Mayor James Young Wednesday morning to share their story with Young and see if he might be able to provide them with more information about Iris Jones.

“It was a fascinating story,” Young said. “It shows what one act of kindness or human decency can do.”

Young said he is going to try to help the family locate Jones or a member of her family.

“I kind of made it a mission now to try to locate Iris,” Shawn Cumberland said. “If I could find Iris or any of her offspring or relatives and thank them for what Iris has done for us, that would be great.”

Anyone with information regarding Iris Young or her family is encouraged to email Shawn Cumberland at cumberland@arctas.com.