Humility. Graciousness. Synergy. That’s what Janet Walden, executive director of CASA of Forsyth County, thinks of when she remembers Kathy Jolly, a woman whose impact to local education, children and families is far reaching and unquestionable.
“She could talk to the president of a company in the same manner she could talk to the mom of an at-risk student and have the same impact. She didn’t see any of those barriers or things that are biases,” Walden said. “She was just real. And she could pick out people’s strengths and use them for their strengths.
“It’s still weird talking about her in past tense.”
Jolly passed away on Saturday, July 18 at the age of 57. She is survived by her husband of 36 years, Bob Jolly, pastor at First Baptist Church in Cumming, and by her two children: Preston Jolly and Meredith Yackel.
Her first grandchild, Madison Jolly, was born in June.
Walden said she met Jolly in 2000 when she asked Walden to sit on the Changing Demographics Task Force, which looked at the changes in both diversity and growth of the community and impact they would have on education and community support.
The group identified the need for a central location to assist immigrant and migrant students and their families.
As a result, Walden said, Jolly played a key role in the establishment of the Transition Services Center on Elm Street.
She helped bring ESOL classes to Forsyth County and helped start Literacy Forsyth.
Jolly was honored with a 2015 CASA Light of Hope award in April, which recognizes adults who help give voiceless children the support they need in the face of abuse, neglect or hardships.
“And she did all of this without anybody really knowing she’s behind it. She would just watch and see the needs and would help plug people in to where they were needed,” Walden said. “It’s actually so overwhelming to realize how much she impacted me personally and really helped me set my course. I would consider her a mentor and someone I would strive to be like.”
The Jollys moved to Cumming in 1994. Then, the population was about 50,000 with a school district enrollment of about 10,000. Now, Forsyth’s population has surpassed 200,000, with enrollment around 42,000.
Paula Gault, then superintendent, hired Jolly on Aug. 21, 1995. On July 21, 2015, she gave Jolly’s eulogy.
“If there was ever a child in need, Kathy would always find a way to help,” Gault said. “She was just a wonderful person. And she was very hands-on. She would go to trailer parks and apartments, anywhere she would need to go.”
Norma Malone, the county’s first ESOL teacher who currently runs the Transition Services Center at the Almon C. Hill Center, said Jolly has done wonders for migrant and immigrant families.
“There were situations when the family has had no food at their tables, and she has not thought about it twice to say [to me], ‘Ok, girlfriend, let’s go to Kroger.’ She personally has come with me and delivered that food for that family that was in so much need. That’s the kind of person she is.”
Fonda Harrison, associate superintendent of teaching and learning for Forsyth County Schools, said Jolly was the person who was always “there for the right reasons.”
“She’s all about helping people become the best person they can be,” Harrison said. “Even if it’s something as simple as inviting them to a meeting. She’s got a purpose in inviting them to that meeting. She’s looking for people to help make those differences and wants to bring everybody together and on board so we can all work together.”
Ruth Goode, executive director of United Way of Forsyth County, said Jolly lead the United Way campaign for the school district and was instrumental in raising $368,700 over a five-year period, increasing the campaign by 30 percent.
“There was never a time when Kathy was asked to help with a project or serve on a committee with United Way that she didn’t gladly accept the challenge, even after she retired from the board,” Goode said. “A keen observer of people, her gentle, sweet southern self could size anyone up in a New York minute. That quality helped her in connecting the right people to get the needed results for students and families.
“All she asked for was the support to help those with the least.”
She served on the Literacy Forsyth board, which provides educational support to adults and is an offshoot of United Way.
Gault said Jolly “left her footprint not just in Forsyth but all over our state with her service on the board of the Georgia Baptist Healthcare Ministry Foundation,” which provides grants to nonprofit programs that strengthen the health of people and their communities.
“Because of her dedication and diligent work for our community and state,” she said, “you can understand why a lot of folks thought of Bob as Mr. Kathy Jolly.”
She never sought recognition or the limelight, said both Gault and CASA’s Walden and really anyone who got to know her or work with her.
“You could take two people, and they could do the work of five because she’s behind it,” Walden said. “We’re sure going to miss her.”