Several years ago, robbers came to Jane Strain’s house in Hogansville. They wanted to lock her in a closet as they escaped.
“No you’re not,” Strain told the robbers, and recounted the incident to her family. “You can take whatever you want, but you’re not going to lock me in a closet.”
Stumped, the would-be thieves left without taking anything. It wasn’t the response they were expecting from an elderly woman.
But the story embodies Strain, who died Monday at the age of 97.
“She wasn’t afraid to stand up to anyone,” said her ex-daughter-in-law, Sally Scarborough, who had remained close with Strain over the years. “She always stood up for the underdog.”
Someone called Strain “sweet” once and she admonished them never to do it again.
“She said, ‘I find sweet people extremely boring,’” Scarborough said.
Strain was anything but boring.
She was a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, a teacher, an artist, and a civil rights activist. She was an author, writing “The History of Hogansville” for the Troup County Historical Society, and a staunch Democrat, even attending the 1976 Democratic National Convention.
“I thought she was a movie star,” said Laura Faulkner, administrative assistant in the spiritual life and church relations department at LaGrange College, who grew up alongside Strain’s family and often baby-sat for her grandchildren. “I don’t ever remember a time I didn’t know her.”
Faulker said some of the pair’s best conversations came when they were riding in the car.
“For whatever reason, this one sticks with me,” Faulker said. “About six years ago we were driving down Ga. 29 to LaGrange and Jane made mention as we passed a house that’s been boarded up for decades, that she’d never even noticed it before and how funny it was that she’d traveled back and forth on that stretch of highway more times than she could remember, and could not recall ever even seeing it. She seemed incredulous that it was even possible that she might have just missed it all those years. After that she was quiet for a little bit and finally said this ‘You know, life is like that. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, something else comes along.’ I’m going to miss Jane and our conversations.”
Jane Strain-Fink, Strain’s granddaughter, grew up sharing the name of the family matriarch.
“She had a spunk that a lot of ladies of her time didn’t have,” Strain-Fink said. “She was for civil rights and desegregation of the schools. When she took a position, she never wavered.”
Strain’s former minister, The Rev. Stan Ayer, eulogized her in services Wednesday. He said she once told him she liked his sermons.
“She said you’re nice enough to be heard, and your grammar is pretty good,” Ayer joked.
Strain was a woman who took up painting late in her life and sewed quilts – by hand – and read. She read everything.
“She liked everything from Jane Austen to the modern writers,” Strain-Fink said. “She read the LaGrange News and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution every day.”
When the AJC stopped delivering to Troup County, Strain sent someone to Newnan every day to fetch it for her, remembers her neighbor, Hogansville Councilwoman Jean Crocker. She could often be found asleep with a book, newspaper, or one of her favorites – The New Yorker – open in her lap.
“She always had a thirst for learning,” Crocker said. “She just kept on. We enjoyed each other. She was a great neighbor for 10 years. She was a great lady. She was never too old to learn.”
Even in her last weeks, Strain-Fink said, her grandmother was curious about current, local events.
Hogansville Councilman Jack Leidner says Strain was the first person he met when he moved to Hogansville. He bought a house from Strain’s sister.
“Jane Strain was a wonderful Southern lady,” Leidner said. “Known for her intelligence and wit, Jane also didn’t hesitate to be forthright on the issues of the day. She loved her family, church, teaching, ideas and this small town. We will all miss her.”
She also was known as Hogansville’s historian, and worked for years with the Troup County Historical Society.
“She had a lot of friends in the county,” said Julia Dyar, longtime society member. “She was one of our strongest advocates for preservation in the county. Her influence and friendship will be missed.”
One of Strain’s friends was Superior Court Judge Allen Keeble, who had her for a Latin teacher at Troup High School.
“I renewed her acquaintance when I came back to LaGrange to practice law,” Keeble said. “She’s been a supporter of mine and I’ve been a supporter of hers. I always had tremendous respect for her. She was an intelligent lady. You were never in doubt where you stood with her and in that way she reminded me of my own mother.”
Clark Johnson, Troup County historian, also had Strain for a teacher and later as a colleague.
“Jane Mattox Strain was a Renaissance woman, excelling in so many areas,” Johnson said. “She was my teacher and later colleague at Troup high. I took Latin and Advanced English from her at Troup high, and worked with her on the regional Junior Classic League. She was my cousin and we shared an interest in history and genealogy. She and her family saved, relocated, and restored several historic homes. She also compiled a history of Hogansville, a history of the Ware family, and was an expert on architecture and antique furniture. She was an excellent artist and an avid gardener. Jane served on the school board in Hogansville and the hospital board in LaGrange and was an immense help when Glenda Major and I compiled the first pictorial history of Troup County in 1992. Jane was one we always consulted as Kaye Minchew, Glenda, and I worked on the other publications that have followed. She was not only a wealth of knowledge, stretching back multiple generations, but a fun person to be with, who despite several personal tragedies over her lifetime, was always upbeat and optimistic. I visited her when I could and we talked constantly by phone.”
Hogansville declared Dec. 8, 2007, “Jane Strain Day” in her honor.
“I didn’t realize how different my life was until Jane Strain Day,” Strain said in an interview then.
Services for Strain were held Wednesday in her longtime church, Hogansville United Methodist Church.