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Harriet Evatt and her husband William 1940

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Extraordinary Women of Northwest Columbus

Inspiring Messages from local leading ladies, from the past to the present

In honor of the women's issue, we wanted to highlight inspiring forces in our community's history, including a beloved author, the infamous Shirley Brooks-Jones, and a woman dedicated to helping young girls and women recover from eating disorders.

While each female leader is an inspiration in her own way, the common thread in these three exemplars is a message of taking action when the opportunity presents itself.

Shirley Brooks-Jones

Shirley Brooks-Jones is somewhat of a legend, and not just to people of Columbus, but around the world. Her simple act of kindness spurred a lifetime of recognition and honor—her message resonating with everyone who came across her story.

Shirley was one of the passengers on Delta Flight 15, the plane that was rerouted from Frankfurt, Germany to Gander, Newfoundland, on 9/11. 

“We were a few hours away from our destination when the pilot came on the speaker saying ‘There’s an emergency in the United States;’ a plane had just hit one of the twin towers in New York City,” Shirley said.

When Delta 15 landed at the airport in the small Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador, the “plane people,” as they came to be called, sat on board for 28.5 hours in shock and silence, but not panic.

People from the Newfoundland town banded together to bring the 'plane people' food, towels and blankets, closing down schools and businesses, all to help the plane people. “The kindness was unbelievable,” Shirley said. “When we left [4 days later], we knew we had to do something to return the favor.”

Learning that a lot of kids dropped out of school due to the lack of jobs available in the area, Shirley simply said, “Why don’t we start an endowed scholarship fund?” Shirley was the only one willing to ask the flight attendant [on their way back to their destination] to make an announcement about getting pledges from passengers, and “I haven’t been anonymous since then,” she laughed.

Those few minutes on the mic spurred talks all over the country (which Shirley still gives) and endless media attention on the weight that sheer kindness holds. Shirley has been back to Newfoundland 30 times since to present the scholarships to high school students, which are still ongoing.

Several years later, Shirley received a phone call from playwrights Irene Sankoff and David Hein, asking if she would be willing to talk about her experiences as they were putting together a musical about 9/11.

The hit musical, Come From Away, is a powerful showcase of trust and love in the face of all the horror that happened on that fateful day. The cast represented the plane people, the Newfoundlanders and of course, Shirley, who was portrayed by actor James Earl Jones the Second. “We became good friends and still text each other back and forth,” Shirley says about James. “He will sign off ‘Shirley’ and I’ll sign off ‘The Other Shirley,’” she laughed. 

Today, the musical is still on Broadway, and has been shown in Columbus, Toronto, Australia, London and Ireland.

Jenny Beck

Jenny Beck is a licensed therapist and Executive Director of The Emily Program, the only residential eating disorder treatment center in Northwest Columbus that is nationally recognized for its personalized approach to eating disorder awareness and lifetime recovery. The program was born from a beloved doctor who treated young women at the old Harding Hospital, back in the 80s when little was known on how to treat women afflicted with body dysmorphia illnesses. 

“Eating disorders bring a profound amount of mental, emotional and physical suffering,” Jenny says. “People with these illnesses are emotionally attuned, creative, intelligent and resilient; yet, they often lack compassion for themselves and doubt their worth.”

This raw truth fuels Jenny to do everything possible to see that patients make their way to a full recovery, no matter how long and difficult the road is to get there. “It is an honor to help people find freedom and healing in their relationships with food," she says. “Helping people move from feeling afraid, worthless and unacceptable to feeling hopeful, empowered and connected is an extremely rewarding way to spend one’s career.”

As for recovery, the improvements patients see from The Emily Program are profound. Jenny emphasizes the positivity that radiates from clients when they recover.

“I’ve had clients who leave unfulfilling jobs and start their own businesses, finally graduate from high school and speak at youth groups or conferences about their own recovery journey,” she says.

Harriet Evatt

Harriet Evatt, better known as the "Worthington Authoress," a title deservingly given to her as a result of her creative endeavors and philanthropic pursuits, was a champion for her community. From her dedicated volunteer work to sharing her written and illustrative talents, this Worthington lady is one in our history we shouldn't forget.  

Harriet was a revered author and illustrator of young children’s books and chapter books for youth, books she didn’t begin writing until she was 45 years old and continued to do so until her passing at 91 years old.

She was known for her “engaging and creative stories” that drew on things she loved best, which provided inspiration for her poems, articles, short stories and books. She is quoted saying, “I like to write and draw, and you can do both in children’s books; that’s why I write for youngsters.”

In addition to providing children with fascinating stories under the genre “mysteries without crime,” Harriet was very active in the Worthington community. She participated in the Worthington unit of the Philharmonic Women’s Association, was a member of the Women’s Auxiliary of St. John’s Episcopal Church, and a member of the League of American Penwomen, the Columbus Art League and the Ohio Watercolor Society.

On display now until June 30 at the Worthington Historical Society is a display titled “Meet Harriet Evatt: Worthington’s Authoress,” where residents can read more about her, as well as view select reproductions of her paintings on display at the Old Worthington Library.

  • Shirley Brooks-Jones
  • Harriet Evatt and her husband William 1940
  • Based on Worthington's Griswold Inn
  • Jenny Beck
  • Thirty-eight commercial planes most bound for the United States, landed at Gander International Airport on 9/11
  • Passengers of Delta Flight 15 head for the homes of homes of welcoming Lewisporte residents on 9/11.
  • Emily Program Columbus resident space
  • Emily Program Teaching Kitchens
  • Emily Program Worthington

"I found the right way to get it done." -Shirley Brooks-Jones

"Helping people feel empowered is rewarding." -Jenny Beck