joan elizabeth (smitherman) dawson

Joan Elizabeth Smitherman Dawson died peacefully on April 19, 2021, at Brighton Gardens in Winston-Salem after a graceful and caring life as a copy editor, mother, friend and volunteer in the community. She was 86.

Jo was born September 22, 1934 in Winston-Salem, NC to Jether Alonzo Smitherman and Flora Livengood Smitherman. Her mother died when she was an infant and she was raised by her stepmother, Nonnie Ball Smitherman.

Jo grew up in Jonesville and Elkin, NC. She graduated from Jonesville High School in 1953 as valedictorian. She attended Salem College in Winston-Salem and graduated cum laude in 1957. By the end of her time there, she was editor-in-chief of the school newspaper, The Salemite, and active in academic, organizational and social clubs. Two post-college years in New York City offered a chance for new experiences and proved foundational to her worldview and the engaging and engaged person she became.

She returned to Winston-Salem and began her lifelong career at the Winston-Salem Journal and Sentinel. Over her fifty years at the papers, gracefully moving from the era of hot type to computer layout and editing, she was above all a steadfast guardian of the language and its proper use and a mentor to many women and men entering the profession.

Jo also volunteered generously to many local organizations that shared her belief in the values of nurturing and strengthening community. The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Winston-Salem was a primary recipient of her talents over her many years as a member there, though she also made time for arts organizations, film and theatre festivals, and choral music performance groups.

Jo is survived by her son, Dirk Dawson of San Diego, California; her daughter-in-law, Kathryn Hamilton, and their son Leo; and her brother, Wes Smitherman, and sister-in-law Lynette Smitherman. Preceding her in death were her siblings, Robert, Opal, Evelyn, Dorothy, Jether Jr. ("Sonny") and Jean.

Once restrictions have eased and we can all gather freely and joyfully, a celebration of her remarkable life will be held. Jo and Dirk ask that any gifts in her memory go to the Music Fund at The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Winston-Salem, 4055 Robinhood Road, Winston-Salem, NC 27106. Online condolences may be made to

Salem Funeral & Cremation Service

2951 Reynolda Rd., Winston-Salem, NC 27106