Beloved story teller, McLemore, dies

Published 4:54 pm Thursday, May 27, 2021

NATCHEZ — A beloved historian and heavily involved member of the Natchez community, Joan McLemore, died Wednesday night.

She was 91 years old and lived a long, full life.

McLemore was a historian, librarian and Natchez Garden Club member among many other things. Many loved her story-telling capabilities, which allowed her to educate people the community for various programs events she participated in, such as the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians’ annual Natchez Powwow.

McLemore was also an active member of the First Presbyterian Church of Natchez.

“In this church, she will be so missed,” said Rev. Joan Gandy of First Presbyterian. “There were so many people here who were very close to her. She was brilliant and so curious about life and about people. If you were talking to her and she did not know something you were talking about, she would be surprised and the next time you saw her she would know it because she had researched it.”

Gandy said McLemore was involved in “just about everything” the church did and would do anything she could do to help out. During Bible study, she wanted to read the scripture out loud and did so “beautifully, as if she really thought about what she was reading,” Gandy said. “She was also a good cook and loved to experiment. … She wanted to be in the middle of everything we did. She loved to share what she knew and what she was thinking with others.”

Maria Bowser, who knew McLemore through her work with the Natchez Historical Society and George W. Armstrong Library board described McLemore as being “much younger than her years.” McLemore served as a secretary to the library board for many years before Bowser became a board member and later the board president, she said.

“She had a tremendous amount of energy,” Bowser said. “She was always enormously knowledgeable about almost everything and was so happy to share all of her knowledge and was a great story teller. … She could be very animated and she always had her facts right.”

Mimi Miller, director emeritus of the Historic Natchez Foundation, said the word she would use to describe McLemore is “indomitable.”

“That’s the only way I know how to describe her. You would have thought Joan would have lived forever because she never gave up doing and she always did for others,” Miller said. “She brought great desserts and snacks into the Historic Natchez Foundation over the years. If she came in to do research or something like that, she would usually repay us with something laden with calories — pies, cakes and little sandwiches. Joan was always appreciative of anything you did to help her.”

Larry Holder, originally from Meadville, said McLemore worked many years at the Bank of Franklin next door to his dad’s café where he grew up.

“I’ve known her all my life and she was a wonderful person,” he said. “There is nothing she didn’t know about Franklin County, Adams County or Southwest Mississippi. … She was a walking history book. She knew everything about everybody. She had an interest in everyone and was very kind.”

McLemore’s family said she worked as a bank teller nearly 20 years before she set out to finish college in 1970. She was appointed to the Franklin Library Board of Trustees and became the librarian when the Franklin County Library opened in 1976.

McLemore started working as the librarian at Copiah Lincoln Community College in 1990 and worked there another 12 years.

Monica Gross, Business Manager at Copiah Lincoln Community College said McLemore worked to earn her master’s degree in Library Science while she was in her 60s. When Gross started working at Co-Lin in 1997, Gross said she and McLemore became close personal friends.

“She was full of life, extremely smart and knowledgeable about everything,” she said.

Beth Richard, who is the current librarian at Co-Lin, said when she started working there in 2001, McLemore was nearing her second retirement.

“She encouraged me to go on and get my master’s degree to be the librarian,” Richard said. “I have a lot of respect for her for doing that for me. … She was a very smart and she used our library long after she retired to do her research.”

Bethany Austin, McLemore’s granddaughter, said the things that mattered to her grandmother most in this world were her family, her church and her community. She had one son, Ken M. McLemore, and a total of three grandchildren.

“She never met a stranger. She knew everything about you and your family within five minutes or less and could tell you your family’s history,” Austin said.

Ken M. McLemore said his mother was “vivacious” about making friends and was an ambassador for Natchez everywhere she went.

“I’ve answered well over 300 texts from all over the world once word got out that she passed,” he said. “She was pretty special.”