By Samantha Lambert
TJ (Thomas Jefferson) Pryor came to the Fort Walton Beach area in 1857. He homesteaded 80 acres where he built his home in Mary Esther and had a saw mill near Cinco Bayou. In 1879, he married Ona Rogers and together they had 12 children. The ninth child, George Washington Pryor, was born in January 1898. He married Inez Bannister, who had grown up along the Florida-Alabama line. They had two children—Robert and Jean.
Jean Pryor Clemons was born in 1927 in Laurel Hill, Florida. Her father was the first to teach vocational education at Laurel Hill School. Her mother was a homemaker. When Jean was six, the family moved to Williston, near Gainesville. She grew up there, graduated from high school, and then attended Stetson University.
Jean met her husband John during high school, while he was attending the University of Florida. John was living with a family who were moving to Williston, and he stopped by to ask Jean out. They dated for a year and were married in September 1947 in Williston.
Between his junior and senior years of college at UF, John was offered a scholarship to Florida State University’s Librarianship program. Jean and John got married and moved to Tallahassee, where John earned his BA and MA degrees from FSU. He then served on the FSU faculty for 17 years. During that time, John also did a two-year stint in the Marines.
The dean at Emory University then asked John to come to his school. The family lived in Decatur, Georgia for 26 years. Jean was a homemaker, and the couple had three children—Rodney (born in 1953), Rick (1957), and Robyn (1960). John retired in 1989, and he and Jean moved to Mary Esther in 1992 to be close to Jean’s parents.
“My father had cancer, and we moved down here to take care of both my father and mother,” says Jean. Her parents lived in a house on the Santa Rosa Sound in Mary Esther. Jean and John moved into the house behind them.
Jean’s father passed away in 1994. Her mother remained in the house on the Sound, where she loved to cook and bake.
“Growing up, each grandchild got a week by themselves with my parents and then a week together with all of the cousins,” says Jean.
“It was a lot of fun,” adds daughter Robyn.
Jean’s mother passed away in 2000. She and John moved down to the house on the Sound and sold the other house. John passed away less than one year later.
To this day, Jean stays very busy. She has worked at her church, First Presbyterian of Fort Walton Beach, one day a week for 25 years. “I have missed less than 10 days in those 25 years,” says Jean. She has many hobbies that she loves, including genealogy, cross stitching, and gardening.
Another of Jean’s passions was working for the USO at the airport. She volunteered in 2010 and just gave it up this past July. “I had a ball out there,” she says.
For her milestone birthdays in the last 15 years, Jean has done something different every five years. For her 75th birthday, she went kayaking. For her 80th, it was parasailing and a champagne cruise. On Jean’s 85th birthday, she went deep sea fishing, rode a 360-degree Ferris wheel, and went up in a hot air balloon.
Recently, when she celebrated 90 years, Jean flew in a seaplane and went paddleboarding with her grandson Brenton. He is one of three grandchildren, along with Rebecca and Angie.
Jean’s children threw her a birthday party, complete with a Snoopy cake. Jean loves Peanuts, and has a dog named Lucy to prove it. There were 90 balloons at her celebration party in the Fellowship Hall at the First Presbyterian Church of Fort Walton Beach.
She also keeps photo albums dating back to her high school years. Each are dated and neatly stored on shelves. There are pictures of her family, along with images of Jean paddleboarding and parasailing.
I wonder how Jean Pryor Clemons will celebrate her 95th birthday?
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