Elizabeth Steelman and her daughter Jasmine Steelman give in to a moment of grief as they remember father and grandfather Norville Jackson, one of 150 body donors honored Wednesday during the Ceremony of Thanksgiving.
Elizabeth Steelman and her daughter, Jasmine Steelman, give in to a moment of grief as they remember Norville Jackson, their father and grandfather, respectively, and one of 150 body donors honored during the Ceremony of Thanksgiving.
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Service commemorates body donors' gifts to students, future patients

Published on Thursday, April 25, 2019

By: Gary Pettus, gpettus@umc.edu

Norville Jackson loved his five grandchildren even more than he loved to cook.

“He could be a hard man to get along with, but he was very gentle with his grandbabies,” said his daughter, Elizabeth Steelman of Vancleave.

“He was a car salesman. But cooking and grandbabies – that’s what he lived for. Man, he could cook some Cajun food.”

Salesman, cook, spoiler of grandchildren – Jackson had many roles during his 64 years of life, but it was in death that he took on one of the most important of all: teacher.

Students line the perimeter of the UMMC Cemetery on Wednesday as relatives of the anatomical donors listen to tributes to their loved ones.
Students line the perimeter of the UMMC Cemetery as relatives of anatomical donors listen to tributes to their loved ones.

During Thursday’s Ceremony of Thanksgiving at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, Jackson and 149 other women and men were celebrated for their contributions, as anatomical donors, to the education of hundreds of students.

Scores of donors’ family members gathered under the trees at the UMMC Cemetery to hear homages from five students and Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine.

They were told that, through their gifts to the Body Donor Program, their loved ones have enabled students in occupational therapy, physical therapy, dentistry and medicine learn, through dissection, the intricate systems of the human anatomy – in a profound and comprehensive way.

Asked why her father wished to be a part of this, Steelman said, “Because he wanted to help people.

“When he found out about [the Body Donor Program] he had me do the research and talk to the people there. It was very easy. They were very kind to us and gentle with the situation.”

Trent Wilson, 3rd Year Dental Student. A Ceremony of Thanksgiving in Memory of Anatomical Donors 2019
Trent Wilkerson, third-year dental student, provides the musical prelude for Wednesday's Ceremony of Thanksgiving.

The impact of benefactors like her father can be multiplied by the hundreds and thousands – that is, by the number of patients the students have never met “and who will reap the benefits your loved ones have made to the Medical Center,” Woodward said.

Some of the students who will meet those patients one day include Huong Pham, who is completing her first year in occupational therapy in the School of Health Related Professions (SHRP).

“They were our first patients,” Pham said of the donors. “Thanks to them, we will become more knowledgeable and compassionate health care providers.”

Taylor Tubertini, a first year physical therapy student, also in SHRP, called the donors “our first teachers.

“They helped us learn patience, they helped us learn respect.” By the end of the course, Tubertini said, “I didn’t want to leave, because I knew I would never get to learn that way again.”

From the School of Dentistry, Grant Warren affirmed that, through the education the students gained and through the care they give their future patients, the donors’ gifts “will forever be remembered.”

Medical student JoJo Dodd assured the donors’ families that, “Your loved ones will live on … with us in our practice.”

Edgar Meyer, a fourth-year clinical anatomy student in the School of Graduate Studies in the Health Sciences, speaks during the ceremony.

Describing the human body as “the most awe-inspiring masterpiece in the entire universe,” Edgar Meyer said those who contribute theirs to science, “can heal others and save lives.”

A fourth-year student in clinical anatomy in the School of Graduate Studies in the Health Sciences, Meyer added: “There are no words in any language that can express my gratitude to these donors.”

Throughout the commemoration, students also paid tribute to the donors and their families through the music of violinist Trent Wilkerson, from the School of Dentistry; and vocalist Jonathan Marks, School of Medicine.

To many of those present, perhaps the highlight of the program was hearing the donors’ names announced, one by one, by Dr. Allan Sinning, professor and interim chair of neurobiology and anatomical sciences.

For Steelman, who attended the service with her daughter, Jasmine, 14, and several family members to remember her father, the observance served as “our last public memorial for him.”

Norville Jackson will be 65 next month, she said. “His first heavenly birthday.”

To make an anatomical gift, anyone who is 18 years of age or older and of sound mind may give his or her body. For information go here.