By Alyssa Schnugg
As brothers sometimes do, Jake and Taylor McGraw worked together to pull a fast one over their mother, Jo Ann O’Quin on Wednesday.
They had to think fast to get her to the Oxford-Lafayette County Chamber of Commerce Annual Meeting Luncheon at the Oxford Conference Center.
After all, she was going to be the recipient of this year’s Citizen of the Year — so she just had to be there and it had to remain a surprise.
“My brother Jake travels around the state speaking at various functions … so I said we could tell her he was speaking at this luncheon today and of course, she wanted to come,” McGraw said.
O’Quin said she was definitely surprised when her name was called as Citizen of the Year.
“I had no idea,” she said. “I quickly changed out of my jeans and came to the lunch.”
O’Quin is the 49th Citizen of the Year awarded by the Chamber.
Since 1972, the Chamber of Commerce has recognized individuals who have made positive contributions to Oxford, Lafayette County and the University of Mississippi.
O’Quin started a support group for Alzheimer’s and related disorders in 1985 that continues to meet monthly. She created and organized the Caring for Aging Relatives Fair and Workshops in 2000 which led to the CARE Support Group.
She is Professor Emerita of Social Work at the University of Mississippi, where she has been an effective educator of students, caregivers, pharmacists, social workers, and other allied health professionals.
Additionally, she helped start the Memory Makers Respite Day program and the Caregiver Resource Center, which offers free resources and counseling for families dealing with memory issues.
“This year’s Citizen of the Year honoree’s commitment to volunteerism in the community is unparalleled, and her efforts make a lasting change that benefits hundreds of families each year,” said Quentin Brewer, outgoing Chamber president. “She is a mentor, a friend, and a relentless advocate for the aging and elderly.”
O’Quin is a prolific author, lecturer, workshop organizer, and grant writer.
“Her empathy and her compassion provide a source of comfort and hope to families who are facing the life change that is inevitable with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis,” Brewer said of O’Quin. “It is a labor of love in the truest sense, and it leaves an undeniable mark on all lives she touches.”
Also on Wednesday, the Chamber presented the Outstanding Service Award to Baptist Memorial Hospital-North Mississippi and its physicians and staff for their outstanding work, dedication, commitment and perseverance during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
“They selflessly cared not only for our community, but countless patients from across the southeast that were transferred into our extraordinary hospital for the best of care,” Brewer said.
“They did all these things while not having enough rooms, staffing, resources, answers and help. They worked 80+ hour weeks. They spent time away from their families so that someday we might all be able to spend a little more time with our own. Always respected and appreciated, their meaning to the community at large was only magnified during the pandemic. They are all our heroes.”
The Chamber also awarded Jason Plunk the Ambassador of the Year Award.
“This LOU Ambassador works so hard and goes above and beyond on a regular basis,” said Pam Swain, vice president of the Chamber. “He is simply amazing. He is my right hand in many ways and is always there when we need him with fresh ideas or a helping hand.”