It wasn't until our daughter's mother-in-law Dr. Riki Birgersdotter-Green travelled to Madagascar for vital medical work - she is a cardiologist - that I was segued back. My mother's second cousin Margaret Magee Joffrion and her husband Dr. Van Joffrion, who is an ophthalmologist, did medical mission work from 1984-1987 in the island country situated off the east coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean. This series of columns introduces the Joffrions, former Franklinton residents, to newcomers to Washington Parish and details their valuable mission work in both Madagascar and Ethiopia, the latter of which came first. I've heard folks talk about outstanding cousins. I write about mine.
Cousin Margaret, as I fondly call her, was born in January of 1941 to well known Franklinton dentist Dr. T. C. W. Magee (1902 - 1979) and his wife Mary "Sister Mary" Wortley Gilmer Magee (1901 - 1995). Their significant life story was detailed in a series of my columns published in January of this year. As I explained, Dr. T. C. W. was my mother's first cousin. His mother Lula Jenkins Magee was a beloved sister to my grandmother Emma Jenkins Brumfield.
Sisters Margaret and Mary Elizabeth (Macias) (1930 - 1990) were raised in the Magee family home on Tenth Avenue in Franklinton, where Margaret was born. At Franklinton High School, where Cousin Margaret was a Demon Darling, she graduated as Valedictorian, the student with the highest scholastic average, in 1958. She matriculated at Louisiana State University where she was a Pi Beta Phi. It was there, at LSU, that she met Van Cleave Joffrion of Marksville on a blind date for the LSU-Ole Miss football game on November 4, 1961. He was, and is, an ardent LSU fan. Digressing, they were set up by Van's cousin and Margaret's sorority sister Betsy Hall. Small world - a member of Tri Psi (the Greek letter sorority for mothers of Tri Deltas), my mother knew her as Betsy Guglielmo, as she was the mother of my Tri Delta sister Nell Guglielmo. Nell and I pledged Delta Delta Delta at LSU in 1982.
Not to further diverge, but that particular football game, at which Cousin Margaret and Dr. Van met, was a showdown. Ole Miss marched into Tiger Stadium, after Minnesota upset #1 Michigan State earlier in the day, #1 (by default) in the country. With Coach Paul Dietzel at the helm, LSU triumphed (final score 10-9) over the Rebels, moving the Tigers to #4 nationally.
And it was a splendid night for the spectators. Romance was in the air. Dr. Van, then a student at LSU Medical School, fondly recalled his date to the game with Margaret Magee, who hailed from Franklinton. From what I gleaned, he, confiding that she was a very attractive coed, was enamored. I imagine it was coup de foudre for the couple. After a year of courtship, they were wed on December 21, 1962.
As newlyweds, Cousin Margaret taught French and art at McGehee School in New Orleans, and Dr. Van continued his studies at LSU Medical School, where he was a member of Alpha Omega Alpha, the prestigious honor society in medicine. Graduating in 1964, he did his internship at Martin Army Hospital in Fort Benning, Georgia, after which the Joffrions proceeded with dispatch to Europe. There, Dr. Van served at the U. S. Army Hospital in Verdon, France, and then as Battalion Surgeon in Frankfort, Germany. Awarded the Army Commendation Medal, he was also promoted to Major in January of 1968. Upon returning to the states, Dr. Van completed his residencies in pediatrics and ophthalmology at Johns Hopkins Hospital and Greater Baltimore Medical Center, respectively, finishing in 1972.
During this busy time for Dr. Van and wife Margaret, the couple's children were born: William Kernan in July of 1963, Susan Elizabeth in November of 1964, and Winston Andre in January of 1969.
The foundation for Dr. Van's life course had been laid early on when, during his second year of medical school, he studied tropical medicine in Haiti with the National Institutes of Health. He witnessed firsthand the poverty and misery there, a country on the island of Hispaniola. This eyewitness experience combined with his earlier call to the ministry produced a humanitarian commitment and the dedication of his life's work. So, armed with conviction and faith, for a four-year period from 1972 to 1976, the Joffrion family lived in Ethiopia, where Dr. Van worked, starting an eye program and travelling to mission stations, doing significant medical work and teaching essential eye care. One of the oldest countries in the world and the oldest independent country in Africa, Ethiopia is situated in the Horn of Africa.
A major trading post between Africa and the Middle East, Ethiopia - at the time of the Joffrions' residence there - was a diverse population of more than 28 million, speaking ninety-three different languages. Notably, there were just two ophthalmologists.
•Stay tuned next month for the continuation of this series on the Joffrion family and their life in Ethiopia.
Photo: The Joffrion family back when their children were younger