Sandra Lee O'Bryan Newell passed away on February 26, 2020, in Tallahassee, Florida. She was born on May 14, 1951, in Charleston, West Virginia to Oma Bragg and Voy Travis O'Bryan, Summers County natives. With her parents, she moved to Fort White, Florida, in 1953. A graduate of Columbia High School, Class of 1969, she then graduated from the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in Library Science in 1973. After only a phone interview, she was hired to serve adult basic education classes across Bay County through the Panama City Public Library. After one year there, she was awarded a grant and received her Master's Degree from Florida State University in 1975. She returned to the Panama City Library. After serving as Director of the Monticello Public Library and the Thomasville, Georgia, Public Library, she became a Consultant with the Florida Bureau of Library Development. For more than 20 years, she had been responsible for adult literacy, library supporters and orientations for new public library directors. Recently, she was involved in developing a 5-year plan for growing adult literacy programs in Florida's public libraries.
Jack Newell, also a leader in adult literacy in Florida, had a bachelor's degree from Mississippi State and a master's degree from Florida State University. He was a merchant marine and later, taught at the prison in Tallahassee. Sandy and Jack were colleagues in the same large Florida literacy circle for many years. That changed in the fall of 1984. Jack's friend Tom, shared this memory, "We were at a coffee shop when Jack took his cup in two hands, developed his faraway look, hunched slightly, nodded slowly and said, 'You know, I've kinda got my eye on this pretty librarian down on the coast. I think it is time to make my move, ' " Jack and Sandy were married on March 24, 1985, at Wakulla State Park.
Throughout Florida, Jack and Sandy were known as the "Literacy Couple". They set up Even Start programs throughout Florida. Jack was recognized by Barbara Bush for his work with adult literacy. In 2003, Jack had a massive stroke, and Sandy took on another role as his caretaker as well as continuing her work with the state's public libraries. Aphasia interfered with Jack's communication, but not his love of life.
In 2004, Sandy, along with her sister Libby, began presenting "Braggin' Rights: Tales of our Flying Aunt" in libraries and state parks in Florida and West Virginia. She was instrumental in gathering material for the book PEARL: You Are Cleared to Land by Deanna Edens. Some presentations also centered on growing up in the John Bragg family on Chestnut Mountain. To Sandy, family histories were an important part of a person and of a family. Even though she had never lived in Summers County, she knew and loved the county and its people as much, or even more, than its natives.
Jack died on November 30, 2019, and Sandy on February 26, 2020. Her parents Travis and Oma O'Bryan predeceased her. She is survived by her sister Libby (Jim) Coffin of Munster, Indiana; nephews, Chester (Tracey) of Oswego, Illinois; and nephew Clifton (Audra) Nichols and niece Lillian (Derrick) Hanlon of Tallahassee, Florida; and four grandnieces (Olivia Hanlon, Olivia and Kate Coffin, and Audrey Nichols; and four grandnephews (Leyland Opfermann, Thomas Coffin, Walter and William Nichols). Her West Virginia family who survives her include: maternal aunt, Mogene Bragg Dobbins of Elk Knob Road and paternal aunt, Vera O'Bryan Kirk of Hinton; Cousins Tim Grimmett and Harriet (Jim) Gunter of Sandstone, and Greg (Robin) Bragg of Beaver. Other cousins are Lewis Laska, Nashville, Tennessee, Bill (Emma) Roth of Riverside, California; Clairlaine Seals of Scottsdale, Arizona, and Lisa Bragg of Maine.
Just before Jack's death, God had discovered that many angels in Heaven had not yet learned to read. As God watched His people on earth, he saw the joy that reading brought to people of all ages. He had been told about Jack and his work with adult literacy so when Jack arrived in heaven, God gave him the Literacy Project. Just because some people hadn't learned to read on Earth didn't mean they could never learn to read. Three months later, Jack realized the job was too big for one person. He told God he knew the only person who could help him complete God's project was Sandy. On February 26, Gabriel, on behalf of God, offered a job to Sandy, and she accepted. Now, the angels who could not read are enjoying all those books in God's library.
The funeral homes in charge of the cremations were Culleys MeadowWood Funeral Home, Tallahassee, FL (Sandy) and ICS Cremation and Funeral Home, Lake City, FL (Jack). Ronald Meadows Funeral Home, Hinton WV (Sandy and Jack) were entrusted with the cremains. No service was held. There is a bench in their memory in the O'Bryan Cemetery in Hix. If you wish to donate in Sandy's and Jack's memories, please contribute to the Summers County Public Library, 201 Temple Street, Hinton, WV 25951.
To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of Sandra Lee O'Bryan Newell & Jack Newell, please visit our floral store.