Dedication earns Kearney Order of Long Leaf Pine award

May. 19, 2014 @ 07:22 PM

Ester Kearney has lived by the idea that you don’t look down on someone unless you are helping them up.

“That lesson has guided me these past 45 years,” she said.

Kearney recently retired from the state Department of Health and Human Services’ Division of Public Health after 45 years of service.

As a sickle cell educator counselor, Kearney provided sickle cell disease and sickle cell trait education in Durham, Franklin, Granville, Person, Vance and Warren counties and throughout many parts of North Carolina for nearly 39 years.

She also provided care coordination services to hundreds of people living with the disease.

Sickle cell disease is a group of disorders that affects hemoglobin, the molecule in red blood cells that delivers oxygen to cells throughout the body, according to the National Institutes of Health. It affects millions of people worldwide and 70,000 to 80,000 Americans, making it the most common inherited blood disorder in the United States.

Jazette Kelly Williams, a client’s mother, said she remains grateful for the work Kearney did for her daughter.

“She will always have a place in my heart, and I thank her for all the years she’s helped my family,” Williams wrote in an email.

Kearney, a longtime Henderson resident, graduated from North Carolina A&T University in 1965 with a major in home economics.

Kearney met her husband, Jim, while they both attended A&T, and their relationship has lasted 49 years.

Jim Kearney, a city councilman, described his wife as having a caring and generous spirit that has helped make the lives of individuals and families more manageable as they dealt with chronic illness.

She was awarded the Order of the Long Leaf Pine by Gov. Pat McCrory on March 28.

This award, one of the highest honors the governor can bestow on a North Carolina citizen, was created in the mid-1960s and is given to residents in recognition of a proven record of service or some other special achievement.

As an active member of the community, Ester Kearney serves as vice president of the missionary circle and food service coordinator in Shiloh Baptist Church. She is also chairwoman of the Vance County Housing Authority and former Chief Judge of Elections.

At his mother’s recent retirement lunch, Kearney’s son J.C. said he realized for the first time how proud he was of his mother.

“She has had the same job with the same state agency for 39 years of her 45-year career,” he said. “The number of lives she has touched cannot be counted. ... If we all could only find a job or career that we were so passionate about and make a difference in the lives of so many co-workers, clients and patients.”

Dr. Michael Putney, principal of Dabney Elementary and a friend of Kearney, said she is a precious, loving gem.

“It is hard to beat her spirit and the love she has for people,” he said. “She deserves this moment. She is truly loved.”

Contact the writer at smansur@hendersondispatch.com.