Jeanette 'Jay' Stokes is remembered by her family for her grace and dedication to equity

Jeanette Stokes, the wife of the late U.S. Congressman Louis Stokes, died in Cleveland Heights Saturday at the age of 83.

“Jay” Stokes, as she was known, was an artist and model before she met her husband. After they married, she put her career on hold to care for three children from Lou Stokes’ previous marriage, and one child they later had together. He died in 2015.

While motherhood was a priority, Jay still worked to improve racial and gender equity, said son Chuck Stokes. As Lou Stokes built a political career focused on change, Jay helped found the Congressional Black Caucus Spouses group, worked with charities and focused on promoting empathy and kindness.

Jay and Lou Stokes both worked to improve racial equity nationally and to ensure everyone had access to the things they needed. [The Stokes family]

“They both came from very humble beginnings in Cleveland, in neighborhoods coming out of Cleveland that were not plush neighborhoods, but where there was lots of love,” said Chuck Stokes. “They never forgot what that was like.”

The family will remember Jay for her love of the arts and nature, said daughter Lori Stokes. Jay also prioritized healthcare, even going so far as to help those who knew her seek out diagnoses when they were ill, Lori said.

“She wanted to be able to walk away from an organization knowing that people’s lives had been changed, and that she made a difference,” Lori said. “And she made a difference.”

The family is asking for donations to charities to honor Jay’s legacy in lieu of flowers, Lori said. That includes the Alzheimer’s Association, Cleveland Clinic Hospice or University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital Division of Pediatric Cardiology.

Jay Stokes spent two years at University Hospitals as a child when dealing with rheumatic and scarlet fever, Lori said, and faced Alzheimer’s and dementia toward the end of her life.

Lori said she hopes her mother is remembered for her kindness and grace.

“She came from that old school of having proper manners,” Lori said. “Whenever I missed the school bus and asked her to take me to school, she would change the scarf over her rollers and she would go over to the mirror and put blush on and lipstick. And then she would take me to school.”

That grace was one of Jay’s defining features, said her granddaughter Alex Stokes. Jay continued to be an active influence on her children and their own kids as they grew older, Alex said, and was very involved in their lives.

Jay Stokes was active and involved in her grandchildren's lives, said granddaughter Alex Stokes. She and Lou Stokes would often take them on trips. [The Stokes family]

“I never stopped learning from her,” Alex said. “The grace of Jay Stokes is something that, you know, it can’t be taught.”

Memorial services will be held at E. F. Boyd & Son Funeral Home later this week. Visitation is set for Thursday from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m., and the funeral service will take place Friday at 12:30 p.m. A livestream is being planned for those who cannot attend in person.

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