Column – Estelle Jamison ‘poured heart and soul’ into Smithfield 

Published 6:39 pm Friday, May 26, 2023

Estelle Jamison, who died recently, never forgot her Irish roots, but we’re a far better place today because she left her beloved homeland as a young wife and came to Virginia. 

In an interview with The Smithfield Times in 2017, Mrs. Jamison recalled that her first view of Smithfield wasn’t impressive. As she rode into town in 1958 with her husband, Dr. Bernard (Barney) Jamison, who planned to hang his medical shingle here, it was raining on what was then a very small town.

“There wasn’t even a stoplight,” she said. “The thought of moving into a one-horse town — well, I pouted and I cried, but Barney insisted we come.”

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And come they did. For the 65 years since then, the couple has made their home here and been central to the life of the town and county. And except for that first week, Estelle poured her heart and soul into every minute of it, and worked to help the community grow in ways that have consistently been good for its residents.

She quickly became friends with Sallie Belle Gwaltney Benedetti, who saw to it that her new friend would have plenty to occupy her time. They collaborated with other volunteers who were working to restart the Red Cross Chapter, which appears to have languished after World War II ended.

Churches were an active part of bloodmobile work from the start. There was, back then, a Smithfield Ministers’ Association, and that group agreed to sponsor bloodmobile visits.

Volunteers, including Mrs. Gwaltney and Mrs. Jamison, stepped up to chair the bloodmobile program and it quickly became a community fixture. 

At its core were volunteers from churches and other organizations that sponsored the visits, and the chairpersons who kept the program going. Of those volunteer chairpersons, Estelle Jamison was the longest-serving, putting in 17 years at the helm. She and Mrs. Benedetti together kept the program going for a combined 27 years — a phenomenal record in any volunteer program.

And they had followed a distinguished list of chairpersons who included Sue Collins, William Johnston and Jemima Glenn.

I can personally attest to the fact that by the early 1970s, when I returned to Smithfield, the bloodmobile had become what newspapers call a “sacred cow.” When bloodmobile time rolled around, the announcement found a prominent place in the paper, Mrs. Jamison was one of a string of chairs who made sure it did, and woe be unto me if it didn’t.

The bloodmobile, however, didn’t exhaust the Irish energy of Estelle Jamison. She became a volunteer for the United Way of South Hampton Roads in 2002, helping to raise local money for that cause. And in 2003, she joined the campaign committee that was raising funds to build a local YMCA. She did manual labor with other YMCA enthusiasts to clean out the old Smithfield High School gymnasium, where the new “Y” was launched.

Her work didn’t go unrecognized. The local Masonic Lodge presented her with the Community Builders Award and, in 1998, the Smithfield Rotary and Ruritan Clubs named her Citizen of the Year.

Organizations find it hard to attract volunteers in this “it’s all about me” age in which we find ourselves. That makes this a good time for us to reflect on people who have given selflessly to make our community better — people like Estelle Jamison. Perhaps, in doing so, we will become a bit introspective about the debt we all owe to the places in which we live.


Joseph H. Barlow Sr.

Joe Barlow probably wasn’t as well known in Smithfield in recent years as his brothers, William K. and Gene Barlow. That’s because, as a young man, he bought a large farm in what was then Nansemond County, now Suffolk. 

The farm he bought, known as Cotton Plains, isn’t more than a good spit across the county line from Isle of Wight, but it made Joe a Suffolk resident, and that city gained from what Isle of Wight lost. During his long life (he was 94 when he died this spring) he became chairman of the Suffolk School Board and a member of the Suffolk City Council.

But he never forsook Isle of wight, remaining a lifelong member of Smithfield Baptist Church, representing the interests of local farmers as president of the State Board of Agriculture and representing all local Hokies as a member of the Board of Visitors of Virginia Tech. 

Suffolk resident, though he was, Joe Barlow was always a proud son of Isle of Wight County, and the county has always been proud of him.


John Edwards is publisher emeritus of The Smithfield Times. His email address is