Miriam Jean McNey, 93, of Suches, Georgia, passed away on May 24, 2023. Born August 13, 1929, to parents Mae Woody White Pidgeon and Lee White, Jean grew up in Suches, attended Woody Gap School when it opened in 1940, and went on to earn a B.A. in English from North Georgia College and an M.A. from Emory University.
After completing her education, she taught English at Woody Gap School; then at Truett McConnell College, where she helped young preachers learn to craft their sermons; and at her alma mater, North Georgia College. Then, in 1960, she married Thomas John McNey, an officer in the U.S. Air Force. They had two children, Lisa and John, during Tom’s Air Force years.
Upon Tom’s retirement in 1972, Tom and Jean returned to Suches, where Jean took up teaching again, at Lumpkin County and at Woody Gap. Over her teaching career, Jean touched the lives of thousands of students, both teenagers and adults, who fondly remember her intelligence, her standards of excellence, her helpfulness, and her sense of humor. In 1987, she was a finalist for Georgia State Teacher of the Year, based partly on the work she had done to create a school-community newspaper, the Woody Gap Dispatch. That paper has inspired a new generation of Woody Gap students to take up the project again.
Jean remained devoted to her church family and her community all her life. In the 1970s, she, along with other community leaders, worked to obtain a grant to establish a clinic in Suches and to hire a nurse practitioner so that residents in this rural community might have accessible medical care. Jean played the organ and taught Sunday School at Mount Lebanon Baptist Church in Suches through her mid-80s — as long as she was physically able to get from her house to the church. Her life was always guided by and founded firmly upon her faith.
Jean was an avid reader, and she loved to work in her garden, maintaining there a connection to nature that she had forged early in her life, gardening beside her mother and her grandparents. She would come home from teaching school and head to the same garden where she had planted and hoed and gathered as a child.
Jean is survived by her children, Elizabeth Jean McNey Sweet (Lisa) and her husband Charley Sweet and John Thomas McNey and his wife Laura Lorenzo McNey, and by grandchildren Tristan J. Erwin, Anna K. Erwin, and John Lawrence McNey (Jack), along with many extended family members in Suches. She was preceded in death by her husband Tom, who is buried at Arlington, and by her brother, Ned White.
Her funeral service will be held at Mount Lebanon Baptist Church in Suches, Georgia, on Sunday, May 28, at 3:00 p.m. Visitation will take place at the church, beginning at 2:00 p.m.
Interment will follow at the Mount Lebanon Baptist Church cemetery, where Jean will be laid to rest next to her grandparents, Forest Ranger and Conservationist Arthur Woody and his wife Emma (June) Abercrombie Woody.
Jean’s family would like to say a special thanks to the staff of Union County Nursing Home in Blairsville, Georgia, and to Jean’s home caregivers, who did so much to make sure that she was loved and well cared for as her health declined.
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