Monday, March 1, 2010


Sarah Josephine Griffin Chapman
31 July 1918 - 28 February 2010

My Aunt Josephine died yesterday morning.  She was 91 years old.   This was not unexpected, nor was it a bad thing.  I admired my Aunt Josephine.  There were times we were at odds, but I never stopped admiring her courage and her tenacity.

Aunt Josephine was an amazing, strong woman who lived an extraordinary life on her own terms.  She even managed to die on her own terms, in her own home, in her own bed, with people she loved and who loved her around, some of whom only she could see.

Josephine was born outside Americus, Georgia, a small farming town in Southwest Georgia.  After graduating from school in Americus, she went to nursing school at the University of Alabama, Birmingham and joined the U.S. Navy Nurse Corps.
She served during World War II in North Africa and in Italy.  She was assigned to the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo, Cuba in the mid 1940's.  While there she had an unfortunate accident which ultimately cost her her left leg below the knee.  

Josephine was the first amputee ever called back to active duty by the Navy.  She was recalled to serve at the rehabilitation hospital in Oakland, California during and after the Korean War, to teach young servicemen to walk with artificial limbs.  I was told that when  a patient said "I can't.", she would pull up her skirt, show her artificial limb, and say, "Yes, you can.  If I can, so can you." 

And she could.  She could bowl, she could dance, and she could ride a bicycle,  One of my earliest memories of Aunt Josephine must have been when I was about six.  Santa brought me my first bicycle, and
Aunt Josephine decided to show me how to ride it.  She could pedal the bike forward, but she had not yet mastered backpedalling, and as a result, had not mastered the art of braking.  Her artificial foot slipped off the pedal, going through the spokes on the front wheel, and she hit a tree.  Didn't stop her, not for a second.  Back onto the bike, and that day we both learned to ride it.

After her second time retiring from the Navy, Aunt Josephine and her husband, Kenneth J. Chapman, moved to Atlanta.  Josephine worked as a civilian nurse at St Joseph's Hospital when it was still located  in downtown Atlanta.  Uncle Ken died in 1993, and she lived alone, and later, with a caretaker until her own death. 

As I said,  an amazing, strong woman who lived an extraordinary life on her own terms.

Rest in Peace Aunt Josephine.  I will miss knowing you are here, and that you loved me.

An afterthought:  My Great-Grandmother Sallie died when she was 85; my Grandmother, Ruth Pennington, died when she was 87; my Mother, Kathleen, was 87; my Aunt Josephine was 91.  Do you suppose Macho Man really knew what he was saying, when he said, "Until death do us part."?  When I am 87, we will have been married 44 years,  half my life, more than half his.


  1. WOW! What a neat lady!! I'm sorry and I know you will miss her!

  2. What a beautiful tribute to a remarkable woman. I understand when you say "it was not a bad thing". It's always harder for those left behind. I hope your memories of your beloved aunt help bring you comfort.

  3. I have a habit of simply continuing my conversations with dear ones who have died, regardless of where they may or may not be. I'm certain your Aunt Josephine will continue to listen to you as you remember her - thanks for the wonderful tribute to her.

  4. She was an original. I have laughed because my Mother and Aunt Josephine never really got over the sibling rivalry stage of life, and could have some pretty heated exchanges, much to the dismay of my Daddy and my Uncle Ken. I wonder how they are getting along now. I would like to be a little fly in the wall.