Joan Douglas Demer: Sept. 5, 1932 — Oct. 18, 2023
Joan Demer, a quick-witted, flower-growing, cat-loving mom and friend to many, died in her Marion, Va., home on Oct. 18, 2023. She was 91.
Most everyone came to know her as JoJo.
She was born in Dunedin, Fla., delivered by her beloved Aunt Hazel in the front bedroom of her childhood home. Her father, who built the house, owned a hardware store, and she inherited his handy skills and ingenuity. She sold duck eggs collected from the family pond, raised cocker spaniels to help pay for college and churned butter in the hardware store’s paint shaker.
JoJo lived life her way, a hard worker, frugal in spending yet generous with her time and resources like her parents. Her wit came with a bite. Her voice mail message said “if you are not a friend or a relative, lose this number” and her doormats advised strangers to “go away.”
For a spell as a young woman, she renamed herself Jo Angela because she longed for a middle name and had a crush on a boy from camp named Angelo. JoJo graduated from Maryville College in Tennessee with a Bachelor of Science degree in education but didn’t want to teach so became a Delta Airlines flight attendant. (Bonus: She got to pocket any cigarettes leftover from what came with airline meals.) When she married, the rules of the time forced her to quit and she became a stay-at-home mother raising four children including one in a wheelchair. (Her first-born died as a newborn.) Her marriage to James Demer was long, though not life-long, and took the family to cities in Tennessee, Alabama, Florida and eventually to Atlanta and its suburbs.
JoJo became a reading paraprofessional for the Dekalb County School District in metro Atlanta, helping students at Avondale High School who had never learned to read or needed a boost. Recognizing all she did, her adored lead teacher dubbed her Demer the Great. She was a dedicated horticulture volunteer at Zoo Atlanta and an usher at the Alliance Theatre. When her three surviving children went off to college, she began renting their rooms to international students, providing them with opportunity and herself with companionship and an expanded worldview. Some remain in touch even now, 40+ years later. On her resume, she listed one of her skills as “dealing with people of all ages.”
After JoJo retired, she resettled near her youngest daughter in Marion, Va. The community embraced her, and she gave back, volunteering with and supporting many service organizations. She received an early honor when she was named one of Smyth County’s Most Beautiful People. She made close friends at Wellness Center classes, hosted regular potluck luncheons and volunteered with Helping Hands thrift store and The Lincoln Theatre among others. She became a Virginia master gardener and put her knowledge to use not only in her own yard, but also by turning a weedy triangle of land at the end of her street into a tiny showplace garden that she maintained almost until she died.
Her life-long habit of tracking every penny she ever spent — literally — and investing and saving the others helped put all of her five grandchildren through college. She never forgot a birthday.
Joan was preceded in death by daughters Sharon Leigh and Terry Lynne Demer; parents Margaret M. and Gavin R. Douglas; brother Russell Douglas; and kitty Biskit among many cherished cats.
Joan is survived by daughter Lisa Demer of Anchorage, Alaska; son Kevin Demer and daughter-in-law Pam of Portland, Ore.; daughter Tracy Thompson of Marion, Va.; brother Gavin L. Douglas of Allen, Texas; ex-son-in-law Garry Mealor of Anchorage; grandchildren Sarah, Drew, Taylor Lee, Noah and Trey; three nieces; many cousins; friends in Virginia, Georgia, Florida and all over the world; and dear kitty Licorice.
In lieu of flowers, JoJo requested that you consider a donation to one of her favorite causes: The Lincoln Theatre in Marion, where daughter Tracy is executive director, or Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library through the Smyth County Chamber of Commerce.
JoJo’s children and grandchildren held a private family service at Hungry Mother State Park to celebrate the richness of her life. They read messages from loved ones, shared memories and played the song she chose, “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”
The day before she died, she said, “I lived just the right amount of time.”