I think the overriding element of this story is that things don't just happen by themselves. But big things can take place when one person becomes a cheerleader for change. That is what Martha Jo Leslie has done for veterans of our state.
She is retired Brigadier General Martha Jo Leslie of Brandon. Her military career went hand in hand with what she had always wanted to be all of her life -- a nurse.
"Walt, I guess I was born to be a nurse," said Leslie. "That's all I ever thought about, when I was in high school, when I was in grammar school."
Jo Leslie grew up around our aging group of World War II veterans in her family and her neighbors. So when she got the chance to take her nursing skills into the National Guard, especially later at the time the Gulf Wars were coming into being, Leslie felt a strong calling to serve.
"Cause I always felt like if I could hold the hand of a dying soldier or if I could ease his pain, then that's what I'm supposed to do," said Leslie.
About the time Jo Leslie was retiring from nursing, Jack Vance who was then the head of the Veterans Affairs Board in Mississippi called Jo to head up the fledgling Veterans Nursing Homes of Mississippi.
She wanted to graciously decline, then he looked her in the eyes and said: "Jo, our veterans need you. And that was all it took."
The culmination of painstaking years of work in updating, modernizing, realigning and in general shaping up the state veterans nursing homes of Mississippi to where they are among the best in the nation today was recognized by naming the nursing home in Kosciusko after General Leslie.
"She led the way in making them professional medical operations where our veterans could get the best possible care," said State Veterans Affairs Board Executive Director Randy Reeves.
And General Jo, as she is affectionately known, went further than that.
"She didn't do just work for nursing homes. She was one of the driving forces that brought our state veterans cemetery here," said Reeves. "The Mississippi Veterans Memorial Cemetery over in Newton."
Entities that may never have happened, or certainly wouldn't have happened as successfully as they have, except General Martha Jo Leslie listened with her heart years ago when she was called upon, and went on to put in more decades, even after retirement, and in doing so is Making A Difference.