The Blue & Gray Press

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

UC employee ‘Ma Jean’ passes at age 71

2 min read

Jean Barnes died on August 31, 2020. | Stephens Family Funeral Home


Staff Writer

Jean Gray Barnes, who has worked with campus dining at UMW for 14 years, passed away recently at the age of 71. This devastating loss has deeply saddened the UMW community. 

Barnes, affectionately called “Ma Jean” by students and coworkers, is remembered fondly by those who were fortunate enough to know her. She took genuine interest in students’ lives and always greeted them with a smile, as well as asking how they had been.

Barnes worked at the top of the UC and was well-known across campus. Many students are able to recall a positive interaction that they’ve had with her throughout her time at the school.

Senior Benjamin Siegel remembers Barnes’s infectious, positive attitude that brightened the days of many students.

“I’d always see her at the UC and joke around and talk with her,” Siegel said. “She was one of the nicest and most soulful workers there are.”

Barnes showed genuine passion for her work and a deep care for the school that touched the lives of many and inspired the community. She had a way of making those she came across feel important and cared for. The everyday interactions students had with her radiated a feeling of unity and family.

Senior Andrew South shared in that feeling of unity with Barnes on multiple occasions. 

“She was super nice, if you even just acknowledged her by name she would ask how you’re doing and how classes are going and she would give you extra food,” South said. “She really felt like a family member. You got that feel from her even though you didn’t know her well.”

Amongst other things, Barnes was a beloved mother of four children, grandmother of four children, and great-grandmother of one child. Her compassionate personality has even led many of those around her to consider her a second mother. 

Cameron Coates, an alum from the graduating class of 2020, remembers that role Barnes played during his time on campus.

“Ma Jean was almost like a relative to me, she always made sure that I was doing okay, and wanted to provide me with so much care,” Coates said. “She was one of a kind.”

Students agree: their interactions with Ma Jean have made their time on campus a little bit brighter. Barnes’s caring nature left a huge impact on the student body and was what made her so widely loved and appreciated by the community. She will be remembered for her kind words, sweet disposition and hard work she contributed to making UMW the best it can be. Barnes remains an irreplaceable member of our school, and will be deeply missed.

3 thoughts on “UC employee ‘Ma Jean’ passes at age 71

  1. Mama Jean, I remember they day I interviewed you and you said, I will always give 110% of myself and you did just that, I will forever remember you as a great lady and a friend, as I moved from being a sous chef, and began another Job at the uc, you still would make your way dwn to the first floor to see how I was doing, due to health issue after 20 years I had to resign from sodexo, but my heart was still with you I will always remember the smile upon your face , and the many chats we had, Rest in heaven!!❤🥺

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