Joyce Varnedoe Fitzgibbons

Published 8:34 am Wednesday, July 10, 2024

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Joyce Varnedoe Fitzgibbons, 92, of Cordele passed away Saturday, July 6, 2024, at her home,  surrounded by her seven children. A funeral Mass will be held at 10:00 a.m. Friday, July 12 at  St. Theresa’s Catholic Church. Private  burial will follow in Sunnyside Cemetery. The family will  receive friends Thursday evening from 6:00 until 7:30 pm at Rainey Family Funeral Services.  The Rosary will follow at 7:45 at the funeral home.

First and foremost, Joyce was a devoted wife to the love of her life Pat who she first met  Thanksgiving 1941when she was 9 years old and Pat was 12. This began a friendship over a  white football of Joyce’s that would grow into a marriage of faith, love, and family. These  themes would define their 68 years of married life.

Joyce was born to the late James Whipple Varnedoe and Winnilee Barfield Varnedoe. She was  preceded in death by her devoted husband Patrick Francis Fitzgibbons, and one grandson,  Patrick Hanavan IV.  Born in Brunswick Ga, her childhood years were those of the Great  Depression. She was the youngest in her family with one brother (the late James W Varnedoe  Jr)  and one sister (the late Winnifred Varnedoe Costlow). Life was tough those years  compounded with their mother being diagnosed with breast cancer in 1938,  receiving care at  home and at Emory with her eventual passing in 1941. Joyce would help with the care at home  as a young girl of 6. This experience instilled in her the career path she would pursue, to  become a nurse one day.

She graduated from Cordele High School in 1949 and attended GA Baptist Nursing School in  Atlanta (1950-1951) . During that time in Atlanta, she and Pat, a student at the University of GA,  continued to grow in their love for each other. Pat would ride the bus from Athens to Atlanta  where they enjoyed the downtown restaurants, movies & shows at the Fox in an era of  simplicity and safety. They eloped in 1951 and lived in a “bird nest” apartment in Athens while  Pat finished his schooling at UGA. Their first child, Lea, was born in Athens. In 1953, Pat  reported  to Ft. Benning and here, two more children were born, Pat and Joy. The family moved  to Cordele 1955 where they both had “roots’.

The white house at 208 14th E Ave with one bathroom would eventually be packed with 4 more  children-Mary, Lydia, John and James. The 200 block of 14th, was a family block and it  afforded a nurturing environment for the children.  Joyce was able to manage the growing  family as well as open a children’s clothing store, “The Young Vogue,” in 1965 with Kitty Slade.  It was located conveniently across the street at 201 and Joyce was able to balance the  demands of family and work.

Once the kids were a bit older, Joyce set out to finish her nursing degree and along with her  daughter Lea in 1971, she joined the freshmen ranks at Georgia Southwestern in Americus.  Upon completion of her degree in 1973, she proudly started her nursing career at Crisp County  Hospital as the 3-11 nursing supervisor. Later that year, she found the wider expression of her  calling at the Crisp County Health Department where she was very active in county-wide health  initiatives being particularly instrumental in the Crippled Children’s Clinic where an orthopedic  team from Scottish Rite Children’s Hospital traveled down to Cordele each month.  It was  headed by Dr. Wood Lovell and Joyce was his “right- hand” nurse.  She was also proud of the  Blood Pressure Hypertension Program that she spearheaded. When we were out with her  grocery shopping during these years, she was widely recognized as “that nurse from the health  department”.

Joyce was an active member of the St. Theresa’s Catholic Church in Cordele, including being  on the Catholic Women’s Council for many years. She and Pat were recipients of the Diocese  of Savannah Gartland Service Award.  Joyce was a faithful example of sharing the love of  Christ with others. She was a tireless worker and one that other church members would look to  for direction and inspiration. Even in her later years, she felt that she was still being called to  advise the congregation. She was honored several times on Mothers’ Day for being the oldest  mother.

Lastly, she was a most loving mother. She nursed us physically and mentally throughout our  lives. She could be fearless in her pursuit of what she felt was right. She was capable of any  project that she set her mind to and when she got a “ bee in her bonnet” about something, we  learned to step aside.

She and Dad  combined to form an environment of stability and love surrounded by relatives  who lived close by and that we  all regularly visited. We were witness to their caring of aging  family members and even “adopting” an older lady at their church who was alone in her elder  years when widowed. Ms Ann from Brooklyn NY was a part of our lives for many years.

She is survived by Lea and Pete Donaldson – Albany, GA, Pat F. Fitzgibbons IV – Cordele,  Joy  and Billy Adams -Cordele, Mary and Bob Williams- Franklin, NC, Lydia and Pat Hanavan-  Winter Springs, FL, John and Becky Fitzgibbons – Cordele,  and James and Jill Fitzgibbons –  Cordele. Grandchildren: Brooke Hixon, Holly Strickland, Brent Hixon, Fr. Jason Patrick Adams,  Dr. Angela Joyce Adams, Christine Hanavan, Katy Franks, and Jack Fitzgibbons.  Great­grands: Emmy and Brooks Strickland, Walker, Hayes, and Allea Hixon, Drew Franks, and  Joanna Fitzgibbons, one nephew James Costlow of Atlanta.

The family recognizes the long-standing relationship of Minnie Fletcher which began at the little white house at 208 and continues to this day.

The family would like to also express their deep and sincere appreciation for the loving and  competent care provided by Sue Barrantes and Ginger Brock during these last 3 years as well  as the recent exceptional care of Pruitt Home Care and Hospice for our mother, and for us. We   want to acknowledge  Dr. David Kavtaradze, MD for his gentle and compassionate care these  many years.

In lieu of flowers, family request memorial donations to St. Theresa’s Catholic Church, 807  South Third Street, Cordele, GA 31015. Arrangements are by Rainey Family Funeral Services.  An online guest register is available at