Jason Shelton


Today’s words are especially difficult for me to write. Over the weekend, my colleagues and I lost one of our brightest stars. Terri Blissard, grant administrator for the City of Tupelo, lost her battle to COVID-19 at North Mississippi Medical Center on Saturday. Like other isolated hospitalized COVID patients, she endured her sickness without the support and love of her family by her side. Terri was only 47 years old. The sadness and tragedy of this virus continues to mount.

Terri was an articulate, intelligent and conscientious employee. She had a quiet nature and her work ethic was stellar. She possessed dogged determination in pursuing funding for our city. As our grant administrator, Terri was responsible for millions of dollars that funded countless projects throughout our city. If you drive our city streets, benefit from our modernized infrastructure, or simply enjoy a walk in one of our beautiful city parks, you can be assured that Terri’s footprint is all over it. Her amazing work impacted the betterment of Tupelo and benefited our community.

On a personal level, Terri was a respected and loyal friend. As in most work situations, our colleagues become some of our dearest friends. To those who worked with Terri, she was beloved. She was a kind, cheerful comrade who possessed a quick wit and loved to laugh. These are the memories we will hold dearest.

Terri joins almost 150,000 Americans who have lost their lives to COVID-19. The virus has now infected 4.2 million in the United States. The outlook is grim. There is no cure. There is no vaccine. There is no perfect solution to the daunting task of keeping the virus from spreading. We are trying to have some normalcy to our lives with schools reopening, restaurants and businesses open, sports games being played, and the reemergence of gatherings. But in order for these things to be successful, we must do the only thing we can to keep ourselves and others safe. Wear the mask. It’s not perfect. It’s not guaranteed. However, the scientific and medical data is telling us that it is our only defense against this deadly virus.

You see, Terri did wear her face mask…diligently. Terri’s position required that she leave her office and go to other offices at city hall. You never saw her without her mask. When Terri tested positive on July 12, just two weeks ago, the decision was made to close Tupelo City Hall for 72 hours for cleaning and sanitation. We also tested every city hall employee for COVID-19 to ensure their safety and the safety of the citizens we serve. Every employee tested negative, and I am convinced that Terri’s conscientious measure of wearing a mask stopped the spread of the virus in our facility. Her effort and concern for others undoubtedly saved her co-workers from becoming ill. It was her last good deed for her friends. After expressing her thanks that no one else at city hall was positive for COVID-19, her last message to me included the following words: “I’m really sorry about not being able to work from home, but I can barely move right now.”

I will say this again at the risk of repeating myself–my plea for each of you to wear a face mask and practice social distancing is not political. It is not something I want to have to plead over and over. It is for the health and well-being of our families, our friends, our colleagues, and our school children. We must work together to limit the spread of this deadly virus. I fear that more sickness and death will surely come. Each of us can make the decision that Terri made, wearing a face mask to protect our friends and family, or we can disregard this small sacrifice and go about our business possibly infecting others.

We mourn with Terri’s parents as they say goodbye to their only child. We mourn with her church family who enjoyed her exceptional gift of music. Terri was a very special human being, and we will miss her tremendously. Our prayers are with her family and all who loved her.

JASON SHELTON is the mayor of Tupelo. Readers can contact him at jason.shelton@tupeloms.gov

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