‘Brave’ art teacher memorialized

Published 10:07 pm Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Each of them cracked their glowsticks near the freshly planted oak tree on the crowded front lawn of Oakland Elementary School on Monday, and when the sun was low in the hot and humid evening, more than 70 mourners held their bright collage of colors as high as they could towards the sky.

Some held more than one glowstick, and others held one another as they remembered how Jodie Linkous added levity, creativity and color to each of their lives, just like the lights in their hands.

“We will miss her, but we loved her and she loved us,” Oakland Elementary School physical education teacher Anne McCoy said as everyone silently held their glowsticks in the air. “She shared that love every day, and for that we want to shine our light towards heaven.”

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Linkous, an art teacher who spent 20 years at Oakland Elementary School, died on Aug. 19 after a head-on collision in Prince George County. She was 43 years old.

Friends, family, faculty and students both current and former met at the school for the vigil. An easel board was filled with well wishes and names of those that cared deeply for the beloved art teacher, and the microphone was left open for anyone to share their thoughts, stories and prayers.

“This evening, the community has gathered because we have something in common,” said Ed Lilley, director of Christian education and youth at Oakland Christian United Church of Christ in Chuckatuck. “It’s not something we wanted to have in common. Tonight, we mourn, we grieve and we celebrate Ms. Linkous’s life as her community, as her village of professionals, of friends and church and family, that we can remember the lady who lived her occupation.”

She was creative in everything she did, from her classroom to her wardrobe. She walked the halls of the elementary school in floral dresses and twirled her hair that changed colors regularly.

“She would always wear these really fancy outfits and look really pretty all the time,” said Oakland Elementary School fifth-grader Winnie Salyers, 10, who said she wants to become an art teacher because of Linkous.

Others were inspired to volunteer and teach thanks to Linkous. Suffolk Public Schools substitute teacher Rebecca Dixon has known Linkous for about 17 years, starting when she and her brother were students. Dixon would spend two to three hours chatting with Linkous in her classroom when Dixon later became a volunteer.

“I’m a substitute for Suffolk Public Schools because she convinced me to, and told me that she really thought I could make a difference in the school after seeing how I grew up and the impact that I made when I came here,” Dixon said.

Her former students remarked how she made her classroom fun and exciting, even for people who didn’t enjoy art.

“I hated art, but she was very, very helpful with me,” said Ryan Dickens, who graduated from Oakland Elementary School in 1999. “I enjoyed being in her class.”

Her aspiring young artists also said a few words. Makayla Frazer, a 2014 graduate who continues to study art, said she was very shy and self-conscious in class. It was Linkous that showed her how to inspire herself and others through art.

“I used to give up on my art, because I thought I wasn’t good enough. I always compared myself to others,” Frazer said. “Then she told me that everyone has their own talents and specific styles. She said no matter how you do it, your art will touch others.”

But that attention for her students didn’t leave time for her to keep a clean desk, according to Kalie Lawson, 13, a fact the crowd acknowledged with chuckles. She would always be drawing or doodling something before she was off helping students or faculty. Lawson recalled how she and other students would try to help her organize.

“She was always going to the other tables instead of focusing on herself. To me, I feel like she put everyone ahead of herself,” Lawson said. “She cared for herself but I don’t think she put a lot of attention (to it). She was not selfish whatsoever. She loves everyone, and I know she still does.”

It was that love that motivated her to make the 90-minute drive from Disputanta to Chuckatuck daily. Kindergarten teacher Karen Lawson once asked Linkous why she kept teaching at Oakland Elementary School despite the long commute.

“She said, ‘Because I had found a family and I love it,’” Lawson said with tears in her eyes.

Her school family plans to keep her memory alive with the same creativity she showed each and every day. Linkous and Melissa Smith, whose three children all attended Oakland Elementary School, became interested in painted rocks in the past year-and-a-half and talked about making a rock garden at the school.

“Even though she’s not here, I’m still going to do it in her name,” Smith said. “I think everybody in this community will continue to enjoy that, because that’s how Jodie was. She loved to spread her love.”

Her care extended outside of the school as well. She was the president of the Tidewater Art Association, actively involved in the March of Dimes and was also a member of Trinity United Methodist Church.

“She gave and gave and gave so much to anybody,” said fourth-grade teacher Julianne Tise.

Tise said Linkous’ favorite children’s book was Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree,” and that made the new oak tree’s dedication all the more appropriate. The tall oak tree that once stood in that spot was removed last year due to safety concerns, and the school decided that the newly planted one should be dedicated in her honor.

PTA parents purchased a tree from Kelly’s Nursery and Greenhouses on Godwin Boulevard, and nursery staff donated their own time and sweat to plant the tree on Monday.

“She had given so much of herself to the kids, and she gave so much confidence to them that I think this is a great reminder of how she helped them all grow, and as we watch the tree grow it will always remind us,” said Melissa Venable, vice president of the PTA.

Members of the Linkous family were present for the kind words on Monday evening, including her parents, Helen and John Linkous, her husband, Simon Fleshman, and her sister, Jill Thompson. Several high school friends were also in attendance. Family members declined to approach the microphone, and teacher’s assistant Alexandria Binford-McLean spoke on behalf of the family.

“She will definitely be missed, but know that she loved it here and this was her second family. We really do appreciate it,” she said.

Old friends of Linkous reminded everyone that Oakland’s heavenly “masterpiece” will be seen in the little things every day, according to Wendy Melara. As they say at the school, “Once a Brave, Always a Brave.”

“She’s everywhere,” Melara said. “When you see something funny happen you’re like, ‘Well, Jodie’s with us.’ Just always remember that she’s always with you.”

Principal Temesha Dabney commended the community for coming together in their sorrow and marked it as a sign of how they will move forward together into a new school year that starts next week.

“I can truly say that there will definitely be a void here at Oakland, but I do know that with all of us pulling together that we will continue to make this a great place and she will never be forgotten,” Dabney said.