Janie Wray Williams Covington, widely regarded as one of the South’s “steel magnolias,” passed away peacefully, surrounded by family, on Nov. 20, 2017, at St. Catherine’s Village in Madison, Mississippi. She was 86.

“Everyone will remember her as kind and sweet,” said her younger son, Buck Covington, “and she was both of those things, but she was also very brave and very strong.”

Mrs. Covington’s daughter, Grace Fricks, recalled how her mother would address others as “honey” and “darling.”

“At first glance you may have thought that she was passive because she was so accommodating,” Fricks said, “but she was an independent woman. She was particular about how she liked her coffee and would send it back if it wasn’t hot enough. She’d do it in such a nice way, though, that you felt good about pleasing her. She was very Southern.”

A memorial service is scheduled for 2 p.m., Wednesday, December 27, at St. Catherine’s Village Chapel at 200 Dominican Drive, Madison, Mississippi, with a reception to follow.

Mrs. Covington was born on April 7, 1931 in Memphis, Tennessee, to Benton Wray Williams and Persis Buck Williams. As a child, she was a spirited tomboy who played baseball and climbed trees. Later on, while attending the prestigious Lausanne School for Girls, she became a debutante and was crowned a Cotton Carnival Princess, modeling lavish gowns and costumes. Known for her grace, she studied dance at the American School of Ballet and the Ballet Art School in New York City before enrolling at Holton Arms Junior College in Washington D.C.

She married George Covington, a sailor in the U.S. Navy, in 1950, and the couple moved around the country, from Key West to deployments in North Carolina, Arkansas, and Mississippi. Along the way, they had three children: Grace, Rimmer, and Buck.

Mrs. Covington eventually returned to Memphis to work in the company her father had founded, Wray Williams Blue Print, where she enjoyed a successful career in sales. In her retirement, she stayed busy with volunteer work. “Mom’s joy was action-oriented and found its way into service for others,” said Buck Covington. “Whether it was cooking fried chicken, providing for the less fortunate, or simply providing a smile in passing for someone who needed it, she always put others first. She would walk to the Siena nursing care facility to provide physical assistance, encouragement and devotionals for the infirm.”

Added Rimmer Covington: “She was genuinely anchored in her Christian faith and lived her life for the moment she would go to heaven. We kidded her about having a direct link to God. She taught me how to pray, and that has been a great benefit to my life.”

Mrs. Covington was preceded in death by her sister, Ethel, and brothers Wray and Billy. She is survived by her sisters in law Betty Williams and Ann Williams of Memphis; children Grace and Larry Fricks of Cleveland, Georgia; Rimmer and Liz Covington of Pass Christian, Mississippi; and Buck and Jill Covington of Madison, Mississippi. She leaves six grandchildren: Rimmer Covington Jr.; Camille Covington Smith; Jane Covington Mattina; Jordan Covington Woodrick; Allie Covington Herrmann; and Buck Covington Jr. Mrs. Covington also had four great-grandchildren: Rimmer Covington III; Adelynn Sue Covington; Mary Weiss Mattina; and Roma Banks Woodrick, along with numerous nieces and nephews.

The family extends its gratitude to Mrs. Covington’s caregivers at St. Catherine’s Village Campbell Cove.

The family asks that, In lieu of flowers, donations be made to Alzheimer’s Mississippi; 855 S. Pear Orchard Road; Suite 501; Ridgeland MS 39157 or online at http://www.alzms.org/donate/