Seeing Decatur mom and schoolteacher Jackie Thompson in Big G the other day, with her big, cheerful smile, walking normally, friendly as ever, was God’s nudge to me to catch her story for our small-town history. She gave me an afternoon, sharing both enjoyable and painful memories, in the room with a large, colorful cross painting over her couch, which echoes Jackie’s personality.
Jackie Denise Avant Thompson was born July 5, 1982, in Conroe, Texas, where her father lived. Her mother’s family from Chunky, Mississippi, had moved there for her grandfather to work on the pipeline. Penny Pugh and Jackie Avant met and married young, had Jackie Denise, and moved back to Union near Penny’s sister Pam and her husband, Coach Steve Harber, when she was in about the first or second grade. Jackie has a younger brother Josh, now married to Lacey Brantley, with children Kaylee Denise, 15 and son Kiptyn, 11. Her father’s Avant Construction Company builds homes and businesses, while her mother works at Anderson Hospital in the business office. The Avants all live near each other on the same road.
They had moved to Decatur where she entered seventh grade, was involved in softball, basketball, choir, and BETA Club throughout high school, and graduated from Newton County High School in 2000. Jackie attended Meridian Community College one year, then finished at East Central Community College before earning her Elementary Education degree from Mississippi State in Meridian in 2004. She taught first grade at Lake in 2004-2005, before moving to Newton County Elementary to teach kindergarten in 2005. She finished her Master’s in E.E. in 2006, also at MSU, in Meridian. She has taught at NCES ever since.
Jackie and Robby Thompson met at East Central and married March 8, 2003, at Beulah Baptist Church. He had already begun working for Farm Bureau and has been there now twenty years, while they have been married eighteen years. Their son Tate was born May 6, 2008, and their daughter Tinleigh was born April 29, 2013.
She described her husband Robby as “a very biblical” dedicated Christian, having been brought up in Hudson Chapel Church of God. Jackie had attended Beulah Baptist Church, before they joined Clarke-Venable Baptist Church about fifteen years ago. She said of Robby, “I couldn’t imagine doing life without him.”
In 2014 Jackie was diagnosed with genetic breast cancer, having to undergo “red devil” chemo, a double mastectomy on September 24, a hysterectomy on October 17, and more rounds of preventative chemo. Jackie says of her first surgery, “The last thing I remember was Bro. Mark, Shawn Selman, and my surgeon, Dr. Stephen Patterson, all praying for me.”
She shared that the most emotionally difficult part was losing her hair, though her husband Robby, who she says is so good at lightening those hard times, said, “We were never late for church after the hair fell out!” But I think the most emotionally encouraging time for her must have been when, on the last day of school before her surgery, she was surprised to discover that the whole school was pink with decorations, pink clothing, and well wishes and prayers from everyone!
The Sunday before her surgery, her Sunday School teacher, Corey Bounds, had the class lay hands on Jackie in a chair and take turns praying for her individually. The prayers of many people were so important to Jackie, as she had become a dedicated Christian at the age of seventeen at Gulf Shores Baptist Assembly in Pass Christian, Mississippi. Jackie says, “I always have my Christian music on. It’s very moving to me.” She leads 1st-5th grade choir at church Wednesday nights, helps organize the Wednesday night church suppers, and has “mostly speaking parts” in the adult choir. She shared, “I want to be a motivational speaker after I retire.”
The family loves to play together, often at their cabin on the Tombigbee River, fishing, swimming, boating, riding Sea-, playing volleyball, grilling, and fellowshipping with neighbors. Jackie loves to swing on the porch and watch the river roll by, as she loves anywhere there is water. Robby and Tate love to fish and hunt. Tinleigh does gymnastics, while Tate plays football at school. She said of her family, “We’re just an all-American family who loves the Lord. Church is important to the whole family. At the end of the day, that’s what matters.”
On January 13, 2021, six days after Robby had had neck surgery to repair three herniated discs in his neck, Jackie took Tate to Union to get a haircut, making Tinleigh stay home with Robby. On the way back, three seconds after making sure Tate had his seat belt buckled, a car swerved into her lane. Neither driver had time to apply brakes, hitting head-on at about sixty miles per hour. She remembers Tate calling her name once, after the airbag hit his face forcefully.
Almost immediately, first responders and people who recognized her were there. (The other driver did not use an ambulance but went to Laird Hospital and was not hurt badly.) She was most grateful to many who stayed with her, comforted her, called her family, and attempted to get her out. It took 45 minutes to extract her from the car. Tate was going to be all right, though having very bad bruises.
She was taken by helicopter to UMMC, where she stayed 21 days in the hospital, having two surgeries to repair her legs. One knee cap was split, broken, and had to be wired back together. The emergency brake had pierced her left leg and broken it, her left arm was broken, and both now have rods in them. She had bruises everywhere, two cracked vertebrae, and a broken hand. After about three months, she is almost finished with physical therapy. Her therapist, Hal Thompson, taught her how to walk again.
Jackie said that her parents were both athletes, that her dad was hard on her, and her coaches also expected a lot from her, which caused her to learn how to persevere through hard times. She told me, “The Lord knows exactly what we need years in advance.”
Jackie told of how educators, especially coaches, impact children. Coach Bass took Tate aside, showed him his own scars from a wreck, told his story, reassured him, and gave him a card the football players had signed. She said, “This mom is so very thankful.” She also expressed great gratitude to her extended family, friends, community, and the church which has sent meals, cards, and flowers.
She said of her own classes at NCES, “If they know I love them and Jesus loves them, then I’ve done my job. Because when the trumpet sounds, that is ultimately what matters.”
Jackie shared, “One thing I’ve learned since my life-changing wreck is to live for today!” She also declared, “If someone doesn’t believe in miracles, come look at me. If someone doesn’t believe in the Lord, come talk to me! God is good! He is faithful!
Live for Jesus! He’s coming soon!
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