Kearney family patriarch dies at 107 | Arkansas Blog

Kearney family patriarch dies at 107

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TJ KEARNEY: His legacy lives on in many children.
  • TJ KEARNEY: His legacy lives on in many children.
Say the name Kearney and you've said family values.

The family's remarkable history has been written about often. Here, an article from the Old State House, talks about the Gould sharecropper TJ Kearney and the 19 children he raised. 18 graduated from college and rose to prominence in many professions. The children include nine lawyers. Janis Kearney became diarist to President Clinton and she's at work on a book about her father, which you can read about on her Facebook page.

I write about the Kearneys today because I've received word of the death Sunday of family patriarch Thomas James "TJ" Kearney. He was 107. Funeral will be later this week.

The family's tribute to a remarkable life and arrangements follow:


Thomas James “TJ” Kearney: A Purpose-filled Life

The world has lost a great patriarch, a bible scholar, a man of wisdom, and one of Arkansas’ greatest storytellers, in the passing of Thomas James “TJ” Kearney. Born June 25, 1906 in Chicot County, Arkansas; Thomas James Kearney was 107 years and six months-old, on Christmas Day this year. He succumbed to the angel of death surrounded by his loving family on Sunday, December 29, 2013; the very same day in 1959 that his mother left this world.

TJ was one of nine children born to Cynthia Davis Kearney and Thomas Clayton “TC” Kearney of Lake Village and Grady, Arkansas. But, those who knew him would say: God saved the best for last. TJ was the last of Thomas Clayton and Cynthia Kearney’s children to leave this earth. He was preceded in death by his father Thomas Clayton Kearney, his mother Cynthia Kearney; siblings Virgie Lightfoot, Sally Tucker Brown, Johnnie Yarborough, Lawrence Kearney, Evevious Kearney, Harry Kearney, Willie Kearney and Samuel Kearney; his soul mate and love of his life, Ethel Virginia Curry Kearney, and two daughters Jo Ann Kearney, and Jamie Kearney Young.

TJ leaves to cherish his memory and legacy, 17 children and 100-plus grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren; as well as a long list of nieces and nephews that he doted on; and his adopted family at the Rankin Chapel Church, in Gould, Arkansas. TJ’s children include: Clara Harper; Cecil Greene (Betty); James Kearney, Jr. (Martha); Jan Kearney-King; Jerrel Kearney; John Kearney(Janice); Janetta Kearney; Joyce Kearney; Joseph Kearney (Dorothy); Jesse Kearney(Sheryl); Jack Kearney (Sandy); Julius Kearney (Lydia); Janis F. Kearney (Bob); Jerome Kearney (Faye); Jude Kearney (Lorraine); Jeffery Kearney (Machelle), Judy Kearney-Ramos(Carlos), his adopted son, Reverend Henry Land, and adopted daughter, Bobbi J. Carrington.

TJ lived a full and purpose-filled life, from striking it out on his own at the age of 11, to explore and discover the world; to falling in love with, and marrying young Temperance Watson at the age of 20; and the eventual marriage to Ethel Virginia Curry Kearney – the beautiful and bright young woman he met in his dreams; and would share his life’s journey from 1937, to 1982. God blessed TJ’s and Ethel’s 45-year union with 17 children, plus the two children – Clara and Cecil - they brought into their marriage, making their total number of children, 19. They made it abundantly clear to all that they loved each of their 19 children equally.

It is said that God does not give us more burdens than we can bear. TJ and Ethel’s 45 years together included many burdens, and life challenges – most pervasive was their dire poverty as cotton sharecroppers, and a lack of access as poor blacks attempting to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. God remained with them throughout their harsh times, and blessed them immeasurably through their friends, their church and their children. 18 of TJ and Ethel’s 19 children attended and graduated from some of America’s finest colleges and universities; nine are now lawyers; two are judges; four served as aides to Attorney General and Governor Clinton; and two were appointed to work in President Clinton’s white house, and Administration. TJ often said it was his faith, his love of people, and his willingness to work as long and as hard as the next man… that brought him through the harshest of times. Had it not been for his faith, TJ says, life would have been twice as hard, and the outcome not half as good.

TJ Kearney was an incomparable father – from helping his wife care for his children – including serving as preschool teacher; combing his girl’s hair; and cooking his children’s favorite jelly cakes or dinner rolls. All who know him remember that his greatest passion was his family, his children, his grand and great-grandchildren; his nieces and nephews. There was also his love for his extended family - Rankin Chapel Church; for which he served as Sunday School Superintendent for more than half his life. One of the very last wishes he verbalized was a desire to visit his church once more.

TJ Kearney asked little of those who loved him, except that they love each other, in spite of all else. He taught that love to his children, and to all that crossed his path. He taught the bible with great passion, and taught Sunday school with an instinctive love of the Word. His family is his legacy, and the way he would like the world to remember him. And, in return, his family remembers him with love, respect, and awe. His children are comforted with the faith that TJ Kearney is now a treasured addition to Heaven’s Roll, joining his beloved wife, Ethel; his mother, Cynthia; his Papa, TC; his two daughters Jamie and Jo Ann, and all of his many siblings and friends who went before him.

A wake is scheduled for Friday, Jan. 3, from 4-7 p.m., at Perry’s Funeral Home in Pine Bluff, AR. The funeral services will be held Saturday, Jan 4 at 2 p.m., at First Baptist Church of Gould, at 101 Madison Street. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorials be made to: Rankin Chapel Missionary Baptist Church C/O TJ and Ethel Kearney Bible Scholars Fund; 1022 W. 6th Street, Pine Bluff, AR 71603          


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