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Jean Southward Dinkins


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Jean Southward Dinkins, educator, animal lover, adventurer, and advocate for children and adults with special needs, died peacefully Tuesday, May 28, 2024. She was 82 years old.

Jean was born to Ira E. and Myra Lee Southward on February 11, 1942, in Sanford, Florida. A graduate of Seminole High School, she went on to earn a Bachelor of Science degree in Occupational Therapy from the University of Florida and a Master of Education degree from the University of North Florida. On August 17, 1963, she married John K. Dinkins. They shared a beautiful life together raising their three children, traveling, volunteering, and most of all, being “Marmee and Papa” to their ten grandchildren.

As a teacher for more than 20 years in the Clay County area, Jean was a pioneer in working with children and adults. Jean was one of the first special education teachers for Lighthouse Learning Center and continued her career at Charles E. Bennett and Ridgeview elementary schools. Always going above and beyond for her students, she and her engineer husband John, designed custom devices so that her students could manipulate and interact with objects and toys to best fit their individual needs. Throughout her career, she never stopped striving for her students to achieve their greatest potential while utilizing their individual strengths. In 1984, her passion and dedication were celebrated when she was awarded Clay County Teacher of the Year.

She later supported special education teachers through Florida Diagnostic and Learning Resource Systems and worked with adults with disabilities through the YMCA Daystar program. She ended her career as a professor of Adult Basic Education at Florida State College at Jacksonville.

Outside of work, Jean worked tirelessly as a volunteer for many different organizations throughout her lifetime including starting the Candy Striper Corps at Orange Park Hospital, serving as a curator at the Jacksonville Children’s Museum (MOSH), and supporting children through the Clay County Guardian Ad Litem program. She was also a member of the Orange Park Women’s Club and served on the board of BASCA – Building Abilities of Special Children and Adults, in Orange Park.

When she wasn’t working or volunteering, Jean enjoyed traveling, antiquing and adventuring with her grandchildren. To celebrate her 70th birthday, she decided skydiving was in order and two years later did it again for her granddaughter’s 18th birthday! A beloved “Marmee” to many, she was famous for giving nicknames to those that she loved the most.

Jean is predeceased by her husband, John, her son, Matt, her brothers, Ernest and Bill Southward, and her sister, Myra Ann Doudney.

She is survived by her children Laura (John) Maierhoffer and Ben (Lisha) Dinkins, her daughter-in-law Sandy Dinkins, and by her many grandchildren: Jean Marie (Drew) Petty, Samuel, Lillian, Thomas (Lauren), Victor, Caroline, Meredith, Henry, Abigail, and Josie. She was thrilled to stay around long enough to welcome her two great-grandsons, Cameron and John Petty.

A memorial service will be held Friday, June 7 at Orange Park Presbyterian Church at 11 a.m. Inurnment will be the following day, June 8 at 11 a.m. at Baldwin Fairchild Oaklawn Cemetery in Sanford.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations be made to BASCA, Inc. or the Safe Animal Shelter of Clay County.