Jessie's Legacy: Organ donor, 9, to be honored in Rose Parade - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Jessie's Legacy: Organ donor, 9, to be honored in Rose Bowl Parade

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OOLTEWAH, TN (WRCB) -- Her third grade teacher has since retired.

But Donna Tate just had to be there.
 
"She was just the kind of friend that everybody wants to have," Tate says.
 
Tate's audience, fourth graders at Wallace A. Smith Elementary in Ooltewah, would have been too young to know her.
 
But four years after a brain aneurysm took the life of  9-year-old Jessie Starnes, her legacy is clear.
 
"I really needed to find a purpose," her mother, Lisa Rousseau, tells Channel 3.
 
"That's what gives me strength," says Jessie's father, Hamilton County Sheriff's Lt. Robert Starnes.
 
"Jessie's not gone, she's moved on to a better place. But she still lives on through seven other people."
 
Her organs gave them sight. Deliverance from dialysis. Life.
 
"The oldest was 75," Rousseau says. "The youngest was a baby boy."
 
Now, the same picture that's been the billboard face for Tennessee's Organ and Tissue Donor Registry, has been immortalized in a floragraph.  It will join six dozen, on a float to appear in the Rose Bowl Parade in Pasadena, January 1.
 
And Donate Life Tennessee is covering the costs so that Jessie's mother, father, and younger sister Melanie, can be there to see it.
 
"It's an honor to keep the memory alive," Jessie's father says. "And to keep the mission out there that donated organs save lives."
 
Jessie's legacy is never far from sight at Wallace A. Smith Elementary. A cherry tree at the entrance, and a garden out back honor her memory.
 
But inside, you'll find a tribute even closer to her own heart; Jessie's Desk.
 
"She would actually give her school supplies away to other kids who couldn't afford them," her father says. 'Jessie would say, 'you can have mine.'"
 
So her friends have decorated it. And her parents and a virtual army of supporters have kept the desk stocked with pens, scissors, pads, paper and other classroom basics so that no child or faculty member need do without.
 
"As a parent, you hope you instill values in your children, that they're loving and giving and caring," her father explains.
 
"Maybe it's just helping somebody that looks like they're kind of lost," her mother says. "Or somebody that doesn't have a lot of friends. Reaching out, even if they've been bullied."
 
Tuesday, Smith Elementary fourth graders would leave their assembly knowing a lot about Jessie Starnes. 
 
"Maybe they can wrap their heads around being an organ donor, yet," her father says. "But they'll know that giving isn't always about material. "It's giving of the heart."
 
"To be good to people, to be giving to people," her mother says.
 
"Because even at that young age, it matters."
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