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Editor’s note: This feature is part of a weekly focus from The Star meant to highlight and remember the lives of Black Kansas Citians who have died.
In her senior year of high school, Tiona Watson did not believe she had what it took to graduate.
Watson suffered with a lifetime of mental illness, learning disabilities and medical issues, including diabetes.
She had an abundance of reasons why she could quit, give up, and give in to her illness. She chose to fight.
The Kansas City native would not only go on to graduate from Raytown High School in 2014, but she pushed past her limitations to work in the health care field. She may not have always had the most confidence in herself, but she was always prepared and willing to help and encourage whoever she encountered at work or in everyday life.
Her life was sadly cut short. Watson (or T.T. as she was known to friends and family) died on May 26 at the age of 25 due to complications from a host of health issues.
“My daughter was a fighter, she fought until the very end,” says her mother, Denise Watson. “My heart is hurting but I have happy tears. My heart is heavy thinking of all the issues she has had in her life and all she had to deal with, but no matter what she never gave up.”
Though she suffered and struggled internally, Tiona Watson was always seen with a big smile on her face. She developed a strong faith in God and was a constant fixture at Heart of God Apostalic Ministries.
“I got a lot on my mind but I am going to let God handle it,” she said in one of her final Facebook posts.
She never stopped thinking about other people, even during the pandemic. Still carrying on her work caring for elderly and infirm patients, she contracted COVID-19 twice. The second time was the toughest, her mother said.
After a month in intensive care, Watson began to suffer seizures and was placed in a medically induced coma while battling pneumonia.
The family saw that time was getting close to say goodbye. As Watson’s mother recounted, “In the Bible, it says you don’t know the day nor the hour the Lord calls for you.”
With a strong faith in God, Watson was highly involved at church and posted inspirational quotes on her social media. Her family will remember her as a light that always shone even when times were dark.
The most important thing for her was family, her mother said. Though she did not have any children of her own, Watson was a “mother to all” concerning her younger cousins. She loved to take them to the park to feed the ducks, or make TikTok videos with them.
“Her little cousins were like her kids,” her mother says. “To be honest I was more worried about how they would take it. I was already prepared, but they were the ones that she was always picking up and taking places. No matter if it was her job or her family, she loved helping people.”
Watson’s mother credits North Kansas City Hospital’s ICU with easing the strain of the family’s loss. She remembers the kind and caring nurturing her daughter received from doctors and nurses during her last days.
On Watson’s Facebook page, masses of posts were left remembering her life and expressing disbelief.
“I truly hate to get on fb (Facebook) and find out another person gone too soon! Baby girl you will truly be missed.”
“It is not fair, you were such an amazing and beautiful person I will miss u dearly and love you forever.”
“She was sassy and classy, salt and pepper. Love you TT Baby.”
Watson had posted plans recently on social media to take a vacation for her 26th birthday, which would have been the 21st of this month.
“Everybody who met her and was around her loved her,” says her mother. “Nobody had nothing bad to say about her. She would literally give you her last if you needed it. She will be so greatly missed by everyone who knew her.”
In addition to her mother, she is survived by her father, Antonio Fayne; sister Twania Watson; and a host of aunts, uncles and cousins.
Shirley Johnson Jr.
Shirley Johnson, husband, father, and deacon at Macedonia Baptist Church, has died at the age of 79.
Born in Ozan, Arkansas in 1943, the fifth of 14 children, “Jack” as he was known by family graduated high school in 1961.
Johnson then studied business in junior college in Kansas City. He was drafted into the U.S. Army and served in Vietnam. He would go on to receive the National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal and the Cross of Gallantry with Palm for his service.
He later married Joella (Dixon) Johnson of Nashville, Arkansas, on Sept. 26, 1968. They had eight children. He worked for Ford Motor Co. and later at a John Deere warehouse for 35 years until retirement.
In addition to his wife of 53 years, he is survived by children Adrienne Johnson, Maria Canady, Samuel Johnson, Daniel Johnson, Margret Johnson, Lanette Mitchell and Joseph Johnson; 17 grandchildren; two great-grandchildren; and 10 siblings.
Bertie Lee Jernigan
Bertie Lee Jernigan, a church social worker and Sunday school teacher, died May 22 at the age of 85.
Jernigan graduated high school in 1954 and received a bachelor’s degree in social work from Avila University. She married Alvin Jernigan in 1958 in Boston, Texas. They had two children, Derrick and Karla Jernigan.
Jernigan was heavily involved in Mount Zion Baptist Church for over 50 years. She taught Sunday school and sang in the choir.
Jernigan is survived by her grandson, Darryll Nelson Jr. of Kansas City; her brothers, Vincent Marshall and Kevin Marshall (Frankie) of Los Angeles; her great-grandchild, Cameron Nelson; and a host of nieces, nephews and other relatives.