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In Memoriam: Joanne and Bill Rawson

by | Aug 11, 2020 | In Memoriam, News

Grandson William, Stewart, Bill, and Joanne Rawson – photo taken in February following William’s jazz ensemble concert.


According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, there have been 210 cases of COVID-19 and 5 deaths in the 28036 zip code.

While the data is important – the numbers don’t tell the story, especially the stories in our community. The numbers don’t show the faces of those who have died or paint the picture of the pain felt by the family and friends left behind.

Joanne, a long-time nurse, shared this post about the data on her Facebook page the day before Bill died and just 2 weeks before she would lose her own battle against COVID.

Two of the Davidson residents who died from COVID-19 were Joanne and Bill Rawson. Their son Rev. Stewart Rawson (Davidson Class of ’90) gave us permission to share some of the thoughts that he wrote throughout the excruciatingly painful weeks surrounding his parents’ deaths.

July 22

My dad entered in to glory a little less than a week ago. As you can imagine our hearts have been heavy in my family. My dad was blessed to live a much longer life than expected after he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 1965 when he was 30. Some of you knew of his journey with Diabetes, he did not talk about it much, though as you can imagine it shaped his life at home among those of us who loved him and walked the path with him.  One of the greatest blessings he experienced, if not the greatest blessing he experienced, was that he had, at his side, for all of those years the most supremely talented nurse that ever dwelt in the lower 48: my mom, Joanne Rawson.

And though our hearts have been heavy, the heaviness has been weighted even further by the reality that my mom, Joanne Rawson, has been very ill at the same time. Joanne (JoJo to her beloved grandsons) contracted COVID-19 while visiting my dad in the hospital. He had tested negative several times, so we were reassured when the three of us went to visit him (for the first time in nearly two weeks after his bad fall) that it would be safe. Several days before my dad died, Mom started showing symptoms. She was quarantined at her cottage and checking her temperature daily. 

Two days before my dad died, her symptoms worsened and she was taken by ambulance to Novant Presbyterian in downtown Charlotte (the same hospital where dad was dying). The fact that she was COVID positive allowed her to visit my dad on his last day, certainly a gift that at the time did not seem like such. For a couple of days, it appeared that Mom was either going to go to Huntersville Oaks or back to her cottage in Davidson.  Then, brokenhearted by the loss of the love of her life and her husband for nearly 56 years, she took a pretty dramatic turn for the worse. We are learning that this virus is unpredictable and evil. 


July 23

A more recent photo of Bill and Joanne.

Yesterday I was optimistic and hopeful…today, I am, well…trying to stay optimistic and hopeful. She is back to receiving the maximum load of oxygen they can provide. And since the year 2020 wants to be remembered for being unrelenting, I was finally able to talk to a doctor to find out what they are doing and what their strategy is and I could not understand a word that he said. Frustration, sadness, helpless…I could search for more words, but why? I still am hopeful that everyone will continue to pray for God’s light to shine in the darkness and for my mom to be able to breathe.  Simple hopes, simple things. I am grateful for the outpouring of concern, love, prayers and hopefulness. I have decided, because of the cards, and emails, and texts and phone calls NOT to give up on this world, there are so many people who have hearts full of love. Thank you. I will update tomorrow.  And I will hope that it will be a positive update that will bring joy to those who read it.


July 25

I am sorry for my lack of updates over the last 48 hours. The roller coaster continues, but this isn’t a roller coaster like the ones at Carowinds where the big hill is followed by an equally big drop followed by an equally large hill…no, this roller coaster feels like more downhills with small, unfortunately small uphills. Mom is still struggling to breathe. That is what this virus does, at least from what little I know; it tears up your lungs and leaves you feeling like you are suffocating. One hour she will be on what they call “opti-flow” receiving a smaller amount of oxygen and then an hour later she will be back on the bi-pap receiving the maximum amount they can deliver. So, I have not updated because, to me, it does not seem good or look good. The nurses that are caring for my mom are amazing, wonderful, they are warriors, they are heroes, I have no idea how they do what they do, but they do! Keep the prayers coming. Keep the love coming. I face timed with my mom a few hours ago and I told her that thousands of people are praying for her and that EVERYONE loves her…I pray that that gives her a moment of peace in the midst of what seems to me to be panic inducing breathlessness.  Once again, I am sorry that I have not been better – and I am even more sorry if I do not get back to you if you call me; it is exhausting and for that I am sorry.


July 29

The rainbow that Stewart saw after receiving the devastating news that his Mom had died, less than 2 weeks after his Dad.

I was walking on the Columbia Canal this afternoon with my oldest son William when I received the call from Lauren, my mom’s nurse at Novant Presbyterian telling me that she had passed. I doubled over in anguish, comforted by my son William. When I finally stood up, I looked at the sky and I saw this beautiful rainbow and I knew that my mom had said to God, “tell them that I got here safely.”  

The tears that I shed are not for my mom, Joanne (JoJo), they are for me and for my breaking heart…for she has received her reward in heaven, God has bid her welcome, “well done my good and faithful servant…well done.”  She is with my dad, who probably had told everybody, “she’s going to clean house when she gets here.” Oh my, how much love the world lost today, but love that has grown from all of you amazing friends and family that have borne me along these last two weeks and will keep carrying me and my sister and our families.  LOVE…that really is all that matters…LOVE, this damn world needs more of it and it needs us living as if we believe it to be true.  AMDG…Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam “For the Greater Glory of God”

JoJo I love you!  You were the best.


August 6

It would be the understatement of the century (or at least of this horrible, forgettable 2020) to say that this past week has been painful, difficult and challenging for my family and my sister’s family. The loss of our two anchors, like many of you can appreciate, leaves us feeling adrift on an ocean of uncertainty and peril. BUT at the same time, the unbelievable out-pouring of love and support has kept us afloat and has kept our sights on the sure and certain hope that is God’s generous grace. Many of you have offered your own journeys through the grief of losing a parent or parents. I can assure you that losing both in a two week stretch just makes it more surreal, more unbelievable and more stultifying. We continue to share stories and memories of the love that we received in heaping doses from our dad and our mom.

Bill and Joanne Rawson had been married for almost 56 years.

Thankfully we will have a memorial service, a “Witness to the Resurrection of Jesus Christ” as we Presbyterians refer to it, this Saturday, August 8th at 4:00 p.m. at Eastminster Presbyterian Church.  It will be for our immediate family only because of the continued risk of COVID-19.  The service will be for both of our parents, Bill and Joanne Rawson. Brad Smith, the senior pastor at Eastminster, and Ron Shive, the senior pastor at First Presbyterian in Burlington, NC will officiate. The service will be live streamed on the Eastminster website, 

Before moving to Davidson in 2010, Bill and Joanne were devoted members at Eastminster for 43 years. Prior to the service, their cremated remains were interred in the Memorial Garden. Rev. Dr. Bradley D. Smith, delivered the homily honoring Bill and Rev. Dr. Ronald Shive the homily for Joanne. Music was provided by Joshua Evanovich, organist and grandson William Rawson, played “Amazing Grace” at the end of the service.

Due to COVID-19, daughter Sherard Anne and her family sat on one side of Eastminster Presbyterian Church and Stewart and his family on the other.

Grandson William Rawson penned the following after the memorial service:

Today my family held a small memorial service for my two wonderful grandparents, Joanne and Bill, or as I knew them, Jojo and Daddy Bill. This past month has been a very tough time for my family and me as both Bill and Joanne fought against COVID-19 in a battle that eventually brought an end to their beautifully lived lives. I have been trying to come up with the right words to honor them and their impact on my life, but I suspect that I overlooked the right words in search of (nonexistent) perfect words. I have written about some of my memories of them as I try to understand how I need to grieve in these unusual times.

I am so grateful for the love and support I have been shown by friends and family over the past few weeks; your kind words have enabled me to stand strong amidst crushing grief.

As I embraced my father upon hearing the news of his mom’s passing, he said to me, “she just loved you so much,” If you never met Jojo, that statement tells you the most important thing you need to know about her: “she loved.” Jojo was strong-willed, determined, compassionate, and outspoken. She taught me a lot of things, including how to play Spades (and how to be a sore loser), but the most important thing I learned from Jojo was how to love.

When I would go stay with Jojo and Grandad, I would lie in bed and ask Jojo to “wub my back”. She would lie with me and rub my back and sing me lullabies. One of our favorites was “Que Sera, Sera.” For most of my young life I assumed that “Que Sera” was the name of the little girl who can’t stop wondering, “what will I be?” The full significance of the lyrics was quite literally lost in translation. This was, in part, because to me and my Jojo that song was so much more than its lyrics. It was a feeling, an atmosphere.

It was the feeling of the worn feather pillows under my head. The warmth of her arm around me. The sound of her voice and the smell of their house. It was the feeling of her love enveloping and surrounding me.

Hearing that song now, as I reflect on Jojo’s impact on my life and struggle with the grief her loss brings, places me back in that guest bedroom and brings a strange sense of comfort: I still don’t know what I will be, but I know that I will be a better one for Jojo’s time in my life.

William Rawson, Joanne and Bill’s grandson, performed “Amazing Grace” on the baritone horn.

The grief I feel at the loss of my grandfather and my namesake, William Sherard Rawson, is a quiet thing. It’s a silence that I find when my mind ventures into the places in my life where his subtle presence was always felt.

Daddy Bill and I shared two great loves in life: Jazz music and aircraft.

The silence that exists between riffs in a fast-paced, improvised solo. The silence that coalesces right before the shout chorus in an old standard.

For someone who never played a single note on an instrument, my grandad had an incredible wealth of musical knowledge. He had a massive collection of Jazz CDs and could talk for hours about any one of them. Grandad never tried to (explicitly) coerce me into studying his favorite form of music, and he didn’t have to. His fascination was infectious. I was ecstatic when he and Jojo were able to come to Atlanta for my concert in February, and I take comfort in the fact that we were able to share that time together before the pandemic really set in. 

The silence that I will now feel whenever I think about the design of fighter jets.

On the phone several months ago, Grandad asked me why we don’t use the “Coke bottle” design for aircraft anymore. I reeled through all the terms I could remember from my aerodynamics courses, but I couldn’t figure out what he meant. I assumed he was confused and mistaken…until a week later when one of my professors was talking about the design of supersonic fighter aircraft and noted that some people used “Coke bottling” to describe the effect that the supersonic optimization had on the body shape of the aircraft. I was shocked, and I’m sure he felt vindicated when I called him later that night to talk about what I had learned and how “Coke bottling” was actually still alive and well today (it’s also called the Area Rule but I realize I’m kind of on a nerdy rant now so I’ll stop).

And it’s not a sad silence, really. It’s a reflective silence; some time to ponder.

I got my name from my Grandad, and though he was always subtle about it, I suspect my fascination with both Jazz music and aircraft came from him as well. I’m proud that two of his greatest passions will live on, through me, in his name.

The pain and anguished caused by this insidious virus are real. The News of Davidson team is grateful to Stewart Rawson for allowing us to share these eloquent reflections during this unbelievable difficult time for his family. May we always remember the people, family, and friends behind the numbers.

The following are Joanne and Bill’s obituaries:

Joanne McBride Rawson

Joanne with William and McBride Rawson.

Joanne McBride Rawson, of Davidson, NC, died surrounded by the love of family and friends, on July 29th, 2020. She was born December 26, 1935 in Vidette, GA. She was the daughter of the late Thomas Gardiner McBride and Letitia Sheppard McBride. She was Joanne to her friends, Jo to her brothers and sisters (she was the youngest of 9), and JoJo to her beloved and devoted grandsons.

After graduation from Graniteville High School in Graniteville, SC, she attended the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta, GA completing her training as a Registered Nurse. During a time in which there were few professional opportunities for women she committed herself to furthering her education and put herself through Vanderbilt University graduating with a B.S. in Nursing and a minor in English. Well-founded rumor is that she never made a single “B”. It was at Vanderbilt on the porch at Rand Hall that she met the love of her life, William Sherard “Bill” Rawson. The two wed at Reid Memorial Presbyterian Church in Augusta, GA in September of 1964. She was an instructor in Clinical Nursing at the Williams Brice College of Nursing at the University of South Carolina; during her time teaching at USC she earned a Masters in Public Health, one of the first graduates of the Arnold School of Public Health. After leaving USC she enjoyed a successful career in Home Health and in the Insurance field, retiring when work got in the way of her life calling – she didn’t want to miss a minute of time with family, embracing with passion her role as grandmother.

She served as a Ruling Elder at Eastminster Presbyterian Church in Columbia, SC. There was seldom a Sunday that she was absent from Sunday school and church. But the greatest joy of her life was being a grandmother. One of the happiest days of her life was when she greeted her second grandson and learned that his given name, McBride, was her maiden name. If you knew Joanne, you knew of her grandsons and she was more than happy to recount for you everything that they were doing. She hosted many summer sessions of “Camp JoJo” – known to others as McKillop Basketball Camp at Davidson, but to her grandsons and their friends as Camp JoJo. She was blessed to enjoy more than a decade living her best years at The Pines in Davidson, where she honed her bridge skills, took great joy in selecting movies to show on Saturdays and was thought of by many as the mayor of this special community.

She was predeceased by 14 days by her loving husband of 55 years, William Sherard Rawson, by her brothers, T.G., Maynard, and Henry, and by her sisters, Frances, Susie, Carrie, and Ruth. She is survived by a sister, Ouida Malon of Colonial Heights, VA; her daughter, Sherard Anne Rawson Gates of Charlotte, NC and her husband Tilman Thomas Gates; her son, William Stewart Rawson of Columbia, SC and his wife Pamela Plowden Rawson; and her devoted grandsons: William Timothy Rawson of Atlanta, GA, McBride Kauders Rawson of Charlottesville, VA, Tilman Thomas Gates, Jr. of Charlotte, NC, and William Rawson Gates of Charlotte, NC.

The family wishes to thank Lauren Uxa and Ruth Exis of Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center in Charlotte, NC for the love and care that they showed her at the end of her life.

Memorials may be sent to The Pines in Davidson, NC.

William Sherard Rawson

William Sherard Rawson of Davidson, NC, died surrounded by the love of family and friends, on Thursday, July 16, 2020. Dr. Rawson was born March 31, 1935, in Abbeville, SC. He was the son of the late Clarence Weaver Rawson, Sr., and Anne Sherard Wilson Rawson.

Bill and Joanne Rawson

He was Bill to his friends, Billy to his mother and nephews, and Daddy Bill to his devoted grandsons. A graveside service for the family will be held in the Memorial Garden at Eastminster Presbyterian Church in Columbia, SC, where he was a devoted member for many years.

After graduation from the Darlington School in Rome, GA, where both of his parents taught, he attended Davidson College, graduating in 1956 with an A.B. in Economics. Following a brief stint in Charlotte, NC, he earned a Master’s degree at Vanderbilt University, also in Economics.

It was at Vanderbilt on the porch at Rand Hall that he met the love of his life, Joanne McBride. The two wed at Reid Memorial Presbyterian Church in Augusta, GA in September of 1964. After two years on the faculty at Shorter College in Rome, GA (whereas head tennis coach he was named Coach of the Year for small colleges in Georgia) he went on to complete his Doctor of Philosophy in Economics at Duke University.

Dr. Rawson was appointed to the faculty at University of South Carolina in 1966 and completed his career there, retiring in 1997 as Professor Emeritus of Economics. Always a teacher of students, he served as director of graduate studies in Economics for many years. Dr. Rawson served as a Ruling Elder at Eastminster Presbyterian Church. There was seldom a Sunday that he was absent from Sunday school and church.

In retirement he served two terms as the Chair of the Committee on Ministry of Trinity Presbytery. Though a devoted student of economics and theology, his greatest joy was found in the study of and appreciation of jazz music. He donated his lifetime collection of jazz LPs to the Thomas Cooper Library at the University of South Carolina. On one of his last nights on earth, he commented to his grandsons, “I am the last person alive who saw Charlie “Bird” Parker, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Count Basie.”

Dr. Rawson was predeceased by his brother, Clarence “Buddy” Rawson. He is survived by his wife of 55 years, Joanne McBride Rawson; his daughter, Sherard Anne Rawson Gates of Charlotte, NC and her husband, Tilman Thomas Gates; his son, William Stewart Rawson of Columbia, SC and his wife, Pamela Plowden Rawson, and his devoted grandsons: William Timothy Rawson of Atlanta, GA, McBride Kauders Rawson of Charlottesville, VA, Tilman Thomas Gates, Jr. of Charlotte, NC, and William Rawson Gates of Charlotte, NC.

The family wishes to thank Ruth Exis of Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center in Charlotte, NC for the love and care that she showed him at the end of his life. Memorials may be sent to the American Diabetes Association, P.O. Box 15829, Arlington, VA, 22215 or by visiting



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