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For Jowell, laughter was always better than tears

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POSTED September 26, 2009 1:49 a.m.
That impish signature twinkle lit up her eyes.

We were trading war stories, as it were, about the Manteca Bulletin and various organizations we had been involved in together through the years.

She started laughing. And once Jowell Griggs started laughing, you coudn’t help but laugh too.

It was a classic Jowell moment. She was enjoying life, friends, and talking about her four most cherished things – her husband Leo, daughter Alexis, and sons Andrew and Aaron.

It was back in April when she sat down to discuss how she was fighting cancer at age 42.

She had just been told a few days earlier that the cancer diagnosed in January had spread to her liver and that they had detected three lesions on her brain.

It jarred her but she didn’t lose focus.

“Do what you need to do,” she recalled telling the doctors.

Jowell said she had a lot to live for – her kids, her husband, and her family – for starters.

“There is no time for me to do the wallowing thing,” Jowell said. “I’m going to do whatever is needed to take a shot at (beating the cancer.)”

Upbeat, determined, and a master at putting other people at ease were just a few of the traits that Jowell was known for. Even as she dealt with what could easily be a death sentence she refused to stray from that outlook.

People could always count on Jowell - her husband, her children, her family her friends, and countless people who never met Jowell.

Jowell was one of those unselfish volunteers who never tired of helping out in the community. It was an attitude that helped her to well serve organizations by fundraising for the Boys & Girls Club to Give Every Child a Chance to the Manteca High Boosters, Sierra High Boosters, Sierra High Sober Graduation Committee, support group for the Sierra High boys basketball team, and the Fourth of July Committee to name a few. Jowell always came through against some daunting odds whether it was at telethon time to help keep the doors open for the Boys & Girls Club and the 1,500 kids that rely on it for a safe haven after school to delivering needed funds for school activities.

Her battling cancer had a major impact on her family and friends as one would suspect. She noted her son Aaron, 11, kept the fact she had cancer quiet and didn’t mention it to anybody at school including classmates. Then one day he mentioned to his teacher that his mother had cancer.

It was shared with the class.

“A little girl wrote Aaron a note saying that her mother had cancer too,” said Jowell who was genuinely touched by the gesture.

Jowell – on that cool April day that was warmed with her laughter - was thrilled that her children have stepped up on their own to help others.

This past Christmas her oldest son Andrew, 22, who is studying to become a chef and ultimately wants to own his own restaurant, contacted Give Every Child a Chance. Andrew along with his girlfriend Virginia wanted to prepare a Christmas dinner for a needy kid’s family.

They ended up doing just that for a family of six. The dinner was complete with prime rib. Alexis got her sixth grade classmates to buy presents as well for the family.

“I’m glad that I’ve been able to in part to my kids the importance of helping others,” Jowell said.

Here was a woman at age 42 staring down cancer and she wasn’t just focused on herself and her family. It was important to her that she instill a strong sense of the value of helping others whether it was through her own children or others that she met.

 We laughed often and hard that day.

For Jowell, laughter was always better than tears.

Today – three days after her passing – I find myself not filled with sadness but counting my good fortunate for having crossed paths with Jowell .

I know that Jowell made this place called earth a little bit better for the time that she danced upon it.
Jowell will be looking down upon her family and Manteca whenever sunshine chases away the fog and dreary rain that may sullen the spirit.

Her legacy lives on not in just her three children but in the hearts of all who knew her or were touched by her unselfish acts of kindness.
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