One of the loveliest things about a friendship with Jane Gravely has been the gift of her mother. I took this sweet photograph of Janice Gravely at the 2019 Hall of Fame Banquet. She was 98 years old. We had a special few minutes alone, holding hands and quietly talking. To me, she was the essence of the verse in the Epistle to the Galatians. In her face, I always saw what we call the fruits of the spirit. “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” She confirmed what I believe, that nothing in our lives is wasted. It is all necessary to whom we become. This remembrance can not include the depth and breadth of her life, but it is offered up with love and admiration for a well-lived life.
The young girl in me, that read adventure stories, was drawn to her airplane story of heroism, bravery, and faith. It is a story of loss and over-coming. Of the ability to draw from an interior life when needed. September 1, 2019, Mary Speidel wrote:
“Janice Gravely sang this song – based on Psalm 17:8 – at the top of her voice inside the cockpit of a single-engine plane as her husband, Edmund, slumped unconscious in the pilot’s seat next to her. She’d flown as a passenger with Edmund, a former Navy aviator and flight instructor, plenty of times, but Janice had no training as a pilot. She suddenly finds herself behind the controls of her husband’s aircraft. “I had a choice,” recalls Janice of Rocky Mount, North Carolina. “I could either be afraid of what was going to happen to both of us, or I could trust God. It was a life or death matter; I trusted God.” Praying fervently, she broke out in song, remembering words to a song she’d learned only the day before. She especially leaned into the words, “Keep Your hand upon me lest I die.” Despite high winds, Janice managed to keep the plane airborne for the next two hours. Then just as the fuel ran out, she crash-landed the plane in a field near Henderson, North Carolina.
I have written about the Hall of Fame Portraits where in my imagination, when the lights dim, and everyone is gone, those who are gone, have fascinating conversations, there is music; a coming together of talent, leadership, wisdom, humor, patrioticm and faithful people who have been the wind under Rocky Mount’s wings. Janice is now part of these conversations. Here is the photo and write up in the Hall of Fame banquet program when she was inducted in the Class of 2017.
Navy veterans of World War II, Janice and her husband, Edmund, married in 1944, settled in Rocky Mount and raised four children. Janice made international news in 1982 landing an airplane after her pilot husband died in flight. The New York Times and the FAA attribute that feat to a miracle of God.She began writing and speaking to groups here and abroad. Her books include Won’t Somebody Help Me! and Ground Level Christianity.
A native of California, Janice graduated from UCLA with a degree in history and later attended UNC-Chapel Hill earning her teaching credentials. A prolific painter, she has painted almost all over the world, has had five solo art shows, and has been featured in the NC Museum of Art.
Janice is a member of the Colonial Dames of the Seventeenth Century. As Girl Scout Troop Leader for eight years, she received a commendation from President Jimmy Carter for having the first Girl Scout troop to successfully complete the Boy Scout dead-reckoning trail at Valley Forge. As a member of the Rocky Mount Junior Guild for fifty years, she served as president and held other offices. She has served on the Rocky Mount School board, the Rocky Mount Christian Women’s Club, and the local PTA board.
She is a sustaining force for the National Day of Prayer activities for Rocky Mount augmenting those activities with the one day Public Bible Reading Aloud which has increased from ninety readers in 2013 locally to over one thousand readers locally, in other NC cities, other states and other nations. She was a Lay Speaker for the United Methodist Church, teaching Sunday School and singing in the choir. She was president of the United Methodist Women and served on the administrative board for the First United Methodist Church in Rocky Mount.
Janice has contributed to her country through her military service and to her state and community through civic and church organizations. She has shared her talents with writing and her paintings. She has lived a life of honor, integrity, and excellence and credits it to her active Christian life.
This post is written for fellow Hall of Fame Board Members, friends, Jane Gravely & Lanny Shuff, and for all those who celebrate the life of Janice Gravely. Photos: Stepheny and Jane, Peter Varney and Lanny Shuff
From the burial service in the Episcopal Prayer Book:
As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives and that at the last he will stand upon the earth. After my awaking, he will raise me up; and in my body I shall see God. I myself shall see, and my eyes behold him who is my friend and not a stranger.
Stepheny Forgue Houghtlin grew up in Evanston, IL. and is a graduate of the University of Kentucky. She is an author of two novels: The Greening of a Heart and Facing East. She lives, writes and gardens in NC. Visit her: Stephenyhoughtlin.com
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