Few writers can hope to leave as large of an impact on their friends and community as Jessie Stephens. The long-time Herald Democrat columnist died Monday after battling cancer. She was 70 years old.

Few writers can hope to leave as large of an impact on their friends and community as Jessie Stephens. The long-time Herald Democrat columnist died Monday after battling cancer. She was 70 years old.


A Memorial Service will be held for Mrs. Stephens in the chapel at Waldo Funeral Home, 619 North Travis Street in Sherman at 7 p.m. Thursday. Her friends and associates are invited to attend and participate. No family visitation or viewing will be held. Mrs. Stephens’ no-ceremony burial will be 2 p.m. Friday at the Antelope Cemetery in Antelope, Texas, south of Wichita Falls.


Jessie Lena Gunn was born in Colorado Springs, Col., in 1943, but soon moved to Wichita Falls, where she met Anthony Stephens, her high school sweetheart. After she graduated from North Texas State University with a degree in French, the two married in 1966.


Mrs. Stephens taught high school and earned a master’s degree in English while Anthony served in Vietnam. After his return, Anthony Stephens was offered a position as a physics professor at Austin College, and the couple moved to Sherman.


Over the past four decades, Mrs. Stephens worked as an editor, a freelance journalist, a fiction writer, a teacher of technical writing, and a columnist for this newspaper.


"She was a master of words," said Kay Casey, treasurer of Press Women of Texas. The organization named Mrs. Stephens a "Communicator of Achievement" in 2011, the highest honor a member can receive. "She was a master writer and a master editor," Casey continued. "She was incredible."


Mrs. Stephens also served as a mentor to those who aspired to write, founding an informal organization she called the Cuchara Writers Group. "She brought us together, one by one," said group member Judy Gharis. "She brought the best qualities of an experienced teacher into helping us develop our writing careers."


Her mentorship gave writers the confidence to take risks and try new things, Gharis said.


Local writer Amy Shojai recalled her first time to meet the group some 25 years ago. "I was a new writer and scared to death," she said. But Mrs. Stephens’ warmth soon turned into a lifelong friendship. Mrs. Stephens encouraged Shojai to try her hand at fiction and even served as the editor of Shojai’s first novel.


"She was not only a very caring and giving person, helping writers get started, but also a true friend," Shojai added.


Mrs. Stephens was best known in the community as an expert gardener. "That woman had the greenest thumb I’ve ever seen," said Cherie Wallis-Jackson, local Chaplin and writer. As a Grayson County Master Gardener, Mrs. Stephens’ weekly column "In Your Backyard" and her book "When to Do What in Your Texoma Garden" were the go-to references for many locals seeking guidance on flowers and vegetables. Mrs. Stephens’ knowledge of Texoma’s unique soil, climate, and ecology, combined with her strong writing, made her work immensely popular.


Mrs. Stephens’ love of the outdoors was not limited to her garden, however. An avid birdwatcher, Mrs. Stephens’ backyard was "a haven for local birds" according to Gharis. This passion led Mrs. Stephens to take a strong role in support of the Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge. A founding member of Friends of Hagerman, she is one of only a few individuals to be given a lifetime membership to that organization.


It can be difficult to summarize the impact of a life as vibrant and varied as that of Jessie Stephens. "She was interested in so many things," Gharis said. "She taught us to enjoy whatever we saw."


"She was truly a renaissance woman," Shojai said. "She made a big, big difference in a lot of lives, and her legacy will live on."