Columbus community leader dies, made positive impact in a variety of ways

Meridith Jarrell
Meridith Jarrell Striffler-Hamby Mortuary

A Columbus community leader died early Monday morning.

Meridith Jarrell died at home in her sleep. She was 62.

Jarrell was the current chairwoman of the Muscogee County School District’s citizens committee that oversees MCSD’s spending of the money generated from the 1 percent Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax. The SPLOST has funded hundreds of millions of dollars worth of capital projects throughout the district in the past two decades.

She previously chaired the Muscogee County Library Board, the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce board, the United Way of the Chattahoochee Valley campaign and the Muscogee Educational Excellence Foundation. She is a recipient of MEEF’s Jim Buntin Excellence in Education Award, named after the retired MCSD superintendent. She also served as chairwoman and treasurer of local Girl Scouts chapter and was named one of their Women of Distinction.

“Like many others throughout our community, I was very saddened to learn of the loss of Mrs. Jarrell,” Lewis told the Ledger-Enquirer via email Monday. “She is someone I respected and admired for her optimism and selfless commitment and service to others. She was a stalwart supporter of public education and our school system specifically, as evidenced by her dedicated work on ESPOLST campaigns and chairing the Citizens’ ESPOST Committee for many years. In addition, she championed many other community organizations such as our library system and Girl Scouts, to name just a few. She will be greatly missed but our community is a better place because of her.”

Jarrell chaired the library board when Alan Harkness, director the Chattahoochee Valley Libraries, was hired in 2013.

“She cared so much about every aspect of the community,” Harkness told the Ledger-Enquirer in a phone interview Monday. “She was a big supporter of education and public libraries and the difference we can make in the community. . . . She was a great advocate and a wonderful human being.”

Jarrell, who retired as president of Universal Card Services in 2002, was a stickler for financial details, Harkness said. She struck the fine balance between cheerleader and watchdog.

“She was a no-nonsense person,” Harkness said. “. . . She always wanted to know where we were getting the money from. I knew I would have to have that justification ready for her. That’s fine. That’s how it’s supposed to be. We’re supposed to be transparent and clear. She wasn’t mean or hateful about it, but she was always very direct.”

Debbie Caballero, chief development officer for the Girl Scouts of Historic Georgia, told the Ledger-Enquirer in a voicemail Tuesday that Jarrell took on positions and roles in the organization that were “difficult and challenging and sometimes even controversial with bravery and courage. She lived the Girl Scouts mssision: to be a girl of courage, confidence and character, who makes the world a better place. We’ll truly miss Meridith. She was a wonderful, strong leader and a loyal friend.”

Cathy Williams, the District 7 representative on the Muscogee County School Board, said Jarrell became her “best friend” after they met in 1999 as founding board members for the Columbus Housing Initiative, the forerunner of NeighborWorks Columbus, which Williams leads as president and CEO.

Jarrell was “somebody who gave you 100 percent when she believed in you or your cause,” Williams told the Ledger-Enquirer in a phone interview Monday. “She was passionate about everything in her life, and her legacy lives on throughout this community. She was an amazing woman.”

A car crash a dozen years ago left Jarrell battling several medical problems, including being in a wheelchair.

“The injuries from the accident caused re-occurring health issues,” Williams said. “She just finally succumbed after several days of being sick.”

Visitation will be Friday, from 3:30 to 7:30 p.m., in Striffler-Hamby Mortuary, 4071 Macon Road. The funeral service will be Saturday at 11 a.m. in First Presbyterian Church of Columbus, 1100 First Ave.

Mark Rice, 706-576-6272, @MarkRiceLE.