A friend to those in need, a hard worker and a woman true to her faith and values are a few of the ways people who love Janet McDuffey describe her.
McDuffey, 82, passed away at her Franklin residence on Aug. 26, but the people who know her best say her memory will live on far longer. One of those people is Jackie McDuffey, her oldest son. Some of his earliest memories involve attending Second Missionary Baptist Church in Franklin with his mother. Janet McDuffey was a lifelong member of the church, and was serving as the treasurer and church board president when she passed away.
“She dedicated her life to Jesus and the wellbeing of her fellow man through that and used the church to navigate through life,” Jackie McDuffey said. “Her faith was very strong from an early age because of my great-grandmother and grandmother. But it wasn’t until her 40s and 50s that she really got involved with the Southeastern Baptist Conference, which would link her with churches from Shelbyville, Rushville and Columbus.”
Second Missionary Baptist Pastor Doug Gray, who knew Janet McDuffey during the last decade of her life, led her funeral service on Sept. 1. She was a stalwart of the church, and her passing has had a deep impact, he said.
“She was a Sunday school teacher, Sunday school superintendent, treasurer, president of the church board. She was very central to life at the church,” Gray said. “In sermons, I use her as an example of what I want us as a church to be. She’s an illustration of having an impact beyond the church walls.”
When not at Second Missionary Baptist Church, Janet McDuffey dedicated her time to helping others. She was a mentor and volunteer for Franklin College’s Student Association in Support of Multiculturalism. She was a former director of the Johnson County Homelessness Task Force and former president of Johnson County Senior Services. She was a contributing columnist for the Daily Journal, an advocate for domestic violence victims and was a longtime poll worker, also running for a Franklin Township Trustee in 1998, according to an obituary posted by Flinn & Maguire Funeral Home.
She received accolades for her service as well. She was awarded the Franklin Chamber of Commerce “Woman of the Year” award in 1990, and was named “Woman of the Year” by the American Business Women’s Association in 1995. In 2017, Franklin College named her a “Woman of Distinction,” according to her obituary.
Janet McDuffey worked at the United Telephone Company in Franklin alongside her husband, who she met when they were both in high school. By the time she passed away, they had been together for at least 65 years, Jackie McDuffey said.
Dorothy Bolin, who also worked with Janet McDuffey at the telephone company, reunited with her for twice-weekly bingo games at the Franklin Active Adult Center.
“If you wanted someone, she was always there. She loved helping homeless people and people who didn’t have anything. If I needed anything I could call Janet,” Bolin said. “I was president of the American Business Women’s Association and anytime you needed someone to help with a fundraiser or something, Janet was always there.”
Throughout his upbringing, Jackie McDuffey said his mother raised him to have a giving spirit. She was always wanting to help others.
“If somebody needed something or was new to town, she would make sure they got situated and had their basic needs,” he said. “We were taught to treat everyone how you want to be treated, so her personality was always friendly. She always had a smile and got along with everyone.”
A vibrant and resilient personality
Janet McDuffey found a way to remain positive despite challenges she often faced growing up in the era of segregation. She was one of the last living alumni of the Booker T. Washington School, the last all-Black school in Franklin, and had to deal with discrimination in other facets of her life.
“She loved the community and she wanted the community to do better. At the same time, in the past, the community wasn’t always loving to her. I can remember the sadness of her demeanor when she explained having to sit in the ‘colored’ section of the Artcraft Theatre,” Gray said.
When Janet McDuffey felt she was being treated unfairly, she would speak up, Jackie McDuffey said.
“She told me ‘I wouldn’t have someone compromise my integrity because they want me to look good for them,’” he said. “Of course, she’d adhere to things but if you had ulterior motives — especially if they were prejudicial — you had a fight on your hands, and then she would make sure the next person didn’t have to go through that. She was big on understanding what your rights were, civilly.”
Janet McDuffey didn’t let those hardships drown her in bitterness, however. She maintained a love for music and entertainment.
At the time of her death, she was looking forward to seeing Gray participating in Johnson County’s “Dancing with the Stars” event. In light of what she told Gray about having to sit in the back of the theater as a child, he planned to surprise Janet McDuffey with front row tickets. Unfortunately, she didn’t live to see it, he said.
“She liked to sing, she loved music. She went to different occasions in Indianapolis, different plays and singing events. She loved those kinds of environments,” Gray said.
Some of her favorite artists were Marvin Gaye, Nancy Wilson and Natalie Cole. Along with listening to music, she loved watching sports, playing cards and socializing, Jackie McDuffey said.
“We were a sports family. She loved watching women’s sports. She used to coach Lassie League softball. She liked playing cards: Euchre, Bid Whist, Spades,” he said. “She was real sociable. She liked getting together with her cousins and close family friends. They would play cards, drink those Miller Lites, smoke those Benson and Hedges. She liked watching sports, she loved music, she was just a well-rounded woman.”
A lasting legacy
Janet McDuffey’s loved ones want her to be remembered for her kindness and empathy. In the coming months, Second Missionary Baptist Church will dedicate an annual day of recognition: Mother Janet McDuffey Day, because many members of the church called her “Mother,” Gray said.
“The title of my eulogy was ‘A Magnificent Mother’ and is based on a scripture, John 19:25, that says ‘Jesus’ Mother stood beside his cross,’ and the point I was making was that Mother McDuffey, or Janet McDuffey, would stand beside those in pain or agony no matter who they were,” he said. “She would stand beside you to help you — that’s kind of who she was.”
She always went the extra mile to help people in need, he said.
“She has a legacy of being one known to go above and beyond the minimum or what is expected,” Gray said. “She always wanted to go above that. That was the way she lived.”
Jackie McDuffey said his mother will also be remembered as someone who made everyone feel welcome and loved.
“She should be remembered as a very loving, giving person who welcomed people into her space … She knew how to put you at ease,” he said. “She was true to herself. She was very authentic and I think that came out when she smiled at you. Her authenticity allowed her to bring you in and feel comfortable even when you didn’t feel comfortable with yourself.”