Editor’s note: This story is part of a series about Oklahomans who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read the stories of other Oklahomans here. Have you lost a loved one to COVID-19? Help us tell their story.
Joanne Emmons, 80, kept a full schedule between church, volunteering, socializing and exercise.
She had a knack for personal relationships, said her husband, Jerry Emmons. She helped with the church choir, volunteered for the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office cold case task force, worked with hospice care, Meals on Wheels, and also sat on many boards and committees in the past.
“She was just this clever and funny person,” Jerry said. “She was one of a kind.”
Joanne was born on Sept. 2, 1939, in Oklahoma City. Her father was a Methodist preacher, and their family moved frequently. She graduated high school in Cushing and earned a degree in music from Oklahoma State University.
She spent a year teaching music in Lawrence, Kansas, before relocating to Oklahoma City and working as a secretary at a law firm.
Joanne had two children with her first husband, whom she divorced after five years. Her second husband was an agent with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, who died in a plane crash while on duty. Joanne and Jerry knew each other from college and the couple married in 1984.
The Emmons lived in Bangladesh for two years while Jerry worked for an oil company and Joanne worked for the U.S. embassy.
“She had clearance to go into the embassy, and she always laughed about it because when I went there, she would have to escort me,” Jerry said.
Joanne loved to decorate her home and had three grandchildren.
Both Joanne and Jerry contracted COVID-19 in March 2020. Jerry didn’t get very sick, but he took Joanne to the hospital when her temperature reached 104.
“We both worked with a trainer for years, and I thought if anybody could get through that, it was her,” Jerry said. “But she only lived for 11 days.”
The hospital sent Jerry home while Joanne was admitted. After three days, she was placed on a ventilator, and Jerry never saw her again. Joanne died April 1, 2020 — Jerry’s birthday.
“It’s been 18 months, and I’m coping but I’m sure not over it,” he said. “She was just a good-hearted soul. And she was so, so well loved.”
Jerry takes Joanne’s West Highland White Terrier on walks most mornings, and said he’s finally able to look at photographs without crying. He’s still holding onto a voicemail from Joanne that he hasn’t quite been able to listen to yet.
Richard Cochran, Joanne’s friend from Boston Avenue United Methodist Church in Tulsa, said she had an “empathic ability.”
“She was able to really see another person’s aloneness, and then try to make them feel welcome,” Cochran said. “She’d sense when people were feeling alone or apart and made that extra effort to help them.”