Jane Ellen Tye “Jet” Matthis, 90, of Abingdon, Virginia, passed away peacefully in her home on Thursday, May 16, 2019 surrounded by loved ones.
She was born in Harlan, Kentucky, to Edith McLain and Charles Herndon Tye on March 17, 1929. She was a longtime member of Sinking Springs Presbyterian Church.
Jet grew up in Harlan and attended Harlan High School, where she met her first and last sweetheart, Gene Matthis. When Harlan High School burned, her parents enrolled her in Ward Belmont, a private girls’ school in Nashville, Tennessee, where she graduated high school and completed two years of college.
Before her junior year, Jet transferred to the University of Kentucky where she completed a Bachelor’s degree in English in 1951. She studied creative writing under A.B. Guthrie and Hollis Summers, and won a student award for “Batwing,” her fictional account of growing up in Harlan. She would continue to write poetry and fiction throughout her life, winning several writing awards. Just weeks before her passing, she completed a long story about growing up in the early 20th century during the ages of vaudeville, silent movies, and radio.
In Jet, UK created a life-long Wildcat basketball fan(atic). When living in Lexington, she and Gene attended many games in Rupp Arena. Through the years she acquired an entire UK fan uniform: blue and white UK sweater, pom pom, lap blanket, and wildcat hand puppet which she would wear for every televised basketball game. Family members soon learned never to call during a UK game.
Cats of the domestic kind were also her passion. She always had a cat, even taking in a long-haired stray at the end of her life whom she named Gracie.
Her primary vocation, however, was homemaker—and what a homemaker she was. She married Gene, a mining engineer, in Belleville, Illinois, where he was serving in the Air Force during the Korean War. When the war ended, she followed her ambitious husband from the humblest coal camps to corporate headquarters; Permille and David, Kentucky; Cinderella, West Virginia; Richwood, West Virginia (twice); Richlands, Virginia; Madisonville, Kentucky; Lexington, Kentucky; and finally, Abingdon, Virginia.
Wherever they moved, she cheerfully took on the challenge of making a lovely home for Gene and their three children. She was constantly at war with the unremitting coal dust that would settle on her pretty lace curtains and fringed bedspreads. Money was tight, so she learned to find valuable treasures at flea markets and estate auctions. She read books on how to identify, restore, and refinish period furniture. Soon she had filled their home with beautiful antiques and collectables. Later she would turn this hobby into a vocation when she opened and operated Olde Abingdon Antiques. Most of her energies, though, went towards supporting her husband and children. Gene moved up in his profession to retire as president of Pittston Coal Group. After he retired, Gene pursued many philanthropic causes, which Jet supported, including Virginia Creeper Trail, Sinking Springs Presbyterian Church and Cemetery, Abingdon Rotary, the Boy Scouts of Southwest Virginia, and the Historical Society of Washington County, Virginia.
Jet and Gene raised three children: Susan (Gary) Johnson, an English teacher and journalist from Richwood, West Virginia; Sarah (Rob) Vandegrift, one of Kentucky’s longest practicing paralegals, from Georgetown, Kentucky; and Stuart (Judy) Matthis, a premier bridge-building civil engineer, from Charlotte, North Carolina. Jet and Gene’s home in Abingdon became a gathering place for their growing family, which included eight grandchildren and eleven great-grandchildren at the time of Jane’s passing.
Jet is also preceded in death by her only brother, Charles Tye.
Other survivors include Julie Marshall (Michael) and children Luke and Sophie of Georgetown, Ky; Mary Claire (Matt) Davis and children Henry, Charlie, and Everett of Charleston, WV; Nick Johnson (Sarah) and daughters Kate and Milly of Arlington, Va; Grayson Vandegrift (Katie) and son Jackson of Midway, Ky; Joanna Hargus (Nick) and children Wesley and Vivian of Minneapolis, MN; Ellen Johnson of Richwood, WV; Gwynne Flatley (Tim) and son Gene of Charleston, WV; Will Matthis of Charlotte, NC; and several nieces and nephews.
Jane Tye Matthis will be laid to rest beside her high school sweetheart in a private ceremony at Sinking Springs Cemetery on Saturday, May 25.
A visitation will be held from 3:00 to 4:00 at Frost Funeral Home in Abingdon. A memorial service will begin at 4:00 at the funeral home chapel.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to Abingdon Public Library, 205 Oak Hill Street, Abingdon, Virginia 24210 https://www.wcpl.net/support/friends/ or Sinking Springs Cemetery Committee at Post Office Box 789, Abingdon, VA 24212.
Frost Funeral Home and Cremation Services of Abingdon, VA is honored to serve the family of Mrs. Matthis.