Lifelong volunteer, Jo Purvis, has died at the age of 86 | She will be remembered by all who value literacy and learning

Published 9:56 pm Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A shining light for literacy has been lost with the death of Jo Purvis, who was born in Bogalusa on May 1, 1926, and died on Tuesday at the age of 86. Purvis volunteered her time, her energy and, most of all, herself, in her lifelong quest to give people the skills they need to make their way in the world.

Purvis said in a 2009 interview, “Knowing how to read and write is very important, right up there with the right to have food and shelter.”

Purvis began volunteering in the mid-1950s when she first learned of the need many adults have for literacy tutoring. Her first student, she said, always remained a vivid memory. He was a man in New Iberia who was a successful businessman, who even owned his own business. However, he couldn’t read, or not very well, but he still managed to hide it from everyone except his wife. She covered for him and he learned to cover for himself. Many times, Purvis said, he would say he forgot his glasses just to get out of reading.

“They have lots of ways to cover,” she said. From that time on, she was always involved in literacy training.

For many years, Purvis and her husband, the Rev. Charles R. Purvis Sr., who predeceased her, moved whenever he was called to a new church, giving her the opportunity to do her own ministering by helping people to learn to read and write proficiently. She taught migrant workers in California and in Oregon taught English as a second language.

After she moved to Bogalusa in 1986, she founded the Literacy Council, which became an agency of the United Way. The council, an all-volunteer organization, still has no permanent facility, so she and the other tutors used public libraries, the YWCA, churches, homes and even coffee and donut establishments to give the one-on-one and class tutoring that helped hundreds, if not thousands, of people gain literacy skills to help them cope in the 21st Century. Helping high school dropouts earn their GED was just one of the many ways she helped people.

Purvis never lost sight of her love of teaching literacy. “I just have a passion for it,” she said in 2009, and it’s not hard to imagine that passion remained with her until her death.

The Rev. Clay Norwood, pastor of Superior Avenue Baptist Church, was sadden by her passing.

“She served God faithfully and humbly. It was never about accolades or recognition. She just went on humbly doing God’s work.”

She will be missed.