Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


OLA School’s ‘Mr. J’ More Than A Janitor

Published March 1, 2007

Willie Jefferson, the beloved janitor at Our Lady of the Assumption School, marks his 20th year of service this month.

Jefferson is a popular fixture at the Atlanta school. In the carpool line he greets parents and students in the morning and at the close of the school day. He is also in the cafeteria for every lunch period. While Jefferson is there to help out with organization and to manage spills and cleanups, he also leads the fourth- and fifth-graders in a lunchtime prayer before their meal.

Jefferson is so admired and revered for his unwavering dedication and hard work that OLA honored him at the conclusion of a school Mass on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 21. He received an ovation that lasted more than a minute as he was called to the front of the church by eighth-grader and student council president Leah Griffin. He was also presented with the gift of a wooden cross by Griffin’s younger sister, Rita. As the main celebrant for the Mass, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory was on hand to bless the cross during the special recognition, which came as a total surprise to the humble janitor.

Anne Stephens, youth minister at OLA and a friend of Jefferson for nearly nine years, proposed the idea to acknowledge Jefferson. Stephens said, “One day I was sitting at my desk, looking out the window, and I saw Willie getting ready for carpool. Parents, kids and teachers were all walking by—and everyone stopped to shake his hand and say hello. It dawned on me that he has to be the most beloved person on the school campus.” Stephens added, “He gives so much joy and love to all of us. We are blessed to have him.”

Jefferson was clearly moved by the moment as he wiped the tears away from his eyes, and judging by the reaction of the congregation, they were just as moved.

In a phone interview The Georgia Bulletin gained a little insight into the man affectionately known as “Mr. J.”

GB: What has been the best thing about your job over the years?

Jefferson: Watching the kids grow, learn and mature as they pass through the school. I get to see them from pre-K up until they grow up to become nice, respectful kids.

GB: What is the hardest part about your job?

Jefferson: It goes back to the kids again. When they’re afflicted with an illness, and they get sent home, cleaning up behind that can be the hardest chore. You know what I mean? (Laughs)

GB: What do you like to do for fun when you are not working?

Jefferson: I’m a big sports fan. I like baseball, basketball and football. Sometimes I go to games. Occasionally some of the parents are gracious enough to give me tickets to sporting events when they can’t attend. That’s one of the perks of the job!

GB: Who is your favorite sports team?

Jefferson: I’m a hometown fan. I like the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech. I follow the Atlanta Braves, Hawks and Falcons.

GB: What kind of music do you like to listen to and who is your favorite group or artist?

Jefferson: I like to listen to R&B (rhythm and blues) and jazz. I like Marvin Gaye, Gladys Knight, Miles Davis and Kenny G just to name a few. I also like gospel music and gospel artists like Shirley Caesar, Yolanda Adams and The Winans.

GB: Do you like going to the movies? If so, what are some of your favorite movies and who is your favorite actor or actress?

Jefferson: I do like going to the movies. I recently started following Tyler Perry’s Madea series. I think he’s an up and coming artist. I also like Denzel Washington, Halle Berry and Morgan Freeman.

GB: What is the first thing that former students usually say when they see you?

Jefferson: “Mr. J, you’re still here!” They’re always pleased to see me. Sometimes they come back to see their old teachers and they’re gone, but they still see me here. They say, “You lasted a long time.”

GB: You’ve seen a lot of students come and go over the years. What words of advice and wisdom would you give those eighth-graders leaving OLA and going to high school?

Jefferson: I tell them all two things. Learn how to be respectful to others so they can receive respect in return and learn how to appreciate the talents God has given you, no matter how big or small they are. Some of these kids go on to prestigious colleges and universities, and when they return they’ll say, “I have taken to heart what you said, Mr. J.” That makes me feel good to know I’ve had a small part in their development.