It seemed as if Sallie Jones was always playing the piano.
When her granddaughter LaDaena Thomas would leave for school early in the morning, Jones’ fingers would already be flickering over the keys playing a gospel tune. When Thomas would get home, she’d be welcomed by the smell of Jones’ delicious meals and by the sound of her piano as well.
Now, seeing her grandmother’s instrument brings back memories from Thomas’ childhood and reminds her of the unstoppable woman Jones was.
“Sometimes after a rough day, I open it and I just play the songs she used to play for me,” Thomas said. “It makes me feel so much better. It’s almost like every problem that I had just goes away.”
Jones, a longtime San Diego resident, died of COVID-19 complications at St. Mary Medical Center in Long Beach on March 27. She was 86.
For Thomas, Jones’ grit and determination were sources of inspiration. Today, Thomas serves as the first female mayor of the borough of Penns Grove in New Jersey.
“She used to say to me, ‘I don’t know what you’re going to be when you grow up but make sure you leave this Earth better than what you found it,” she said. “I lead with that in my heart.”
Living with one leg never stopped Jones from doing whatever she needed to do, Thomas said. Jones’ right leg was amputated at age 18 after being diagnosed with a cancerous tumor. As a child, Thomas never even noticed her grandmother wore a prosthesis.
“She could do everything that anybody else could do,” she said. “She was a very determined woman. She was very resilient.”
Jones worked as a nurse for nearly six years, her granddaughter said, and spent most of her adult life as a stay-at-home mother and homemaker.
Jones also instilled in Thomas a love for God and the church. When Thomas was 3, she pointed up at the sky, where she saw what looked like a church with stained-glass windows and a large cross sitting on top of a cloud. When Jones looked, she said she saw it too.
“We never knew what it meant,” she said. “But it shaped who I was. From a little kid, it made me believe. She said it was God’s way of letting us know he was with me.”
Jones contracted the coronavirus at the Country Villa Belmont Heights Healthcare Center in Long Beach, where she was waiting before she could receive chemotherapy for a cancerous lump in her throat. The center has reported three positive patient cases and nine worker cases. Jones is the only known death.
Jones is survived by her husband, Sam, daughter Ernie, five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
“I miss her like crazy,” Thomas said.