NEWARK, NJ — When the Rev. William Rutherford II retired from the Greater New Point Baptist Church on Paine Avenue in December 2018, after 38 years of leading that religious institution, he said he wouldn’t stop preaching.
And sure enough, Rutherford was in the pulpit of Franklin-St. John’s United Methodist Church on Maple Avenue in Newark on Thursday, Jan. 17, preaching at Essex County Freeholder Lebby C. Jones’ funeral. Rutherford gave Jones, who died of cancer Wednesday, Jan. 9, a rousing send-off.
“We come here today to bid farewell to a life that was well-lived here, while ‘tabernacle-ing’ here on God’s green Earth,” said Rutherford at the funeral. “I want to reflect on the religious, saved, Christian side of Lebby. Much has been said about her involvements politically, communitywise, citywise, lifewise, educationwise, but at the bottom of all this was her Christian foundation. She knew where her help came from.”
Rutherford said Jones knew her help came from God and she never forgot that, the same way she never forgot she was born in South Carolina in 1943. He said her experiences growing up in the segregated South molded her into the person she became, who participated in the civil rights movement and spent most of her adult life fighting for freedom, justice and equality, something she had in common with him.
“Lebby was one of those choice vessels that God poured into the gift of leadership, the gift of love, the gift of hope and the gift of peace,” Rutherford said. “And so, in listening, she and I have some things that are in common. I see that she was born in March of 1943. Guess what? I was born in March of 1943. I see that she comes from Jim Crow, South Carolina. Well, I come from Jim Crow, Georgia. I came to the area in 1965; she came in 1968.”
Rutherford said, most of all, he and Jones had a common purpose to empower, uplift and educate people. He did so with his congregation at Greater New Point Missionary Baptist Church and with the Irvington NAACP. And Jones did so by teaching mostly minority children in the Newark public schools, going into politics with D. Bilal Beasley and forming the Team Irvington social and political organization, and serving on the Irvington Board of Education and as a councilwoman on the Irvington Municipal Council.
“We have sojourned, we have worked together and, in Irvington, she was a profound leader, always thinking about her people and not herself,” said Rutherford. “Now, Greater New Point Missionary Baptist Church sits in the South Ward of Irvington and there was not a time when she didn’t come by to see about us and to see what we were doing there on Paine Avenue. And so, when it got time for me to retire … Lebby would always come by and give her support and leadership, because of her concern for her community. And so, today, the Irvingtonians turned out in numbers to just say, ‘Thank you, Lebby,’ for being our leader. Thank you for leaving your fingerprints on Irvington. Thank you for leaving your DNA in Irvington.”