Surrounded by family, Liam Justice walked to his seat hand-in-hand with his dad. Wrinkles formed around his black suit and tie as he sat down and rested his head on his father’s shoulder.
Liam didn’t say much during the service, but he didn’t have to. Stories about his mom’s life — from her childhood to her final weeks in and out of the hospital — flooded the room.
The dozens of people attending the funeral mass for Julie Justice, former assistant professor of education, made it clear they all had a “Julie-sized hole in their heart.”
On Feb. 26, Julie died after complications with an autoimmune liver disease. Her ashes will be taken to Hawaii, where she spent several years of her youth, and spread on Mt. Haleakala.
Hundreds of people supported her fight against the disease by donating more than $35,700 to Julie’s GoFundMe page, organized by Shannon Lundeen, director of academic-residential partnerships.
“Everyone was fighting over who was Julie’s closest friend because she made everyone feel so important and so loved,” Lundeen said. “She just had this way of making everybody feel so special like they were her own personal rockstar.”
A legacy at Elon and abroad
Julie joined Elon University’s faculty in 2014, after spending six years teaching at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She taught classes in literacy development, children’s literature, gifted education and teaching practice.
At Elon, Julie served as the community director for The Oaks Neighborhood until 2018. She is credited with beginning the neighborhood dinner tradition, which carries on today, with dinners hosted several times a semester.
Outside of Oaks Neighborhood, Julie led study abroad programs to Malawi which focused on peer-assisted literacy training and helping develop underserved educational programs. Her passion for the children in Malawi continues today.
“While most people I have worked with usually pay attention and focus on what obligations they have, Dr. Justice always took an extra step. She was someone who wanted to know more about each and every person she met here,” said Macdonald Nkhutabasa, a program coordinator at the school. “The school committee, children and everyone will never forget her warm and caring heart. We’ll always remember her and how she made the partnership with Elon to grow stronger each year.”
Donations to Julie’s GoFundMe page made after her death will go directly to the Chimwewe Children’s Center in Blantyre, Malawi. The School of Education has also established the “Julie Justice Malawi Book Project.” Donations to the project will go toward buying books for the children at the center.
Julie’s family and friends planned for her service to mirror the things she loved most: books, storytelling, family, music and food.
“Her passion was stories and storytelling. That’s how she connected with middle schoolers. It’s actually how she connected with her teacher educators. ... That’s how she connected to everyone, whether she was in the classroom teaching or not,” Lundeen said. “Stories for her weren’t just about teaching kids or people a lesson about life — they were about connecting people.”
Those attending the funeral mass were asked to participate in a book exchange by bringing books that connected them to or reminded them of Julie.
William Moner, assistant professor of communication design, met Julie through their children’s school. He brought the picture book “I need a New Butt!” for the exchange.
“It made her laugh uncontrollably,” Moner said. “Her specialty was children’s literature, so she always wanted to find new ways to engage with kids.”
Amid the abundance of books and friends at the service, Liam untucked his shirt, left his father’s side and went outside to spend time with some friends. Before leaving, Liam said he would miss his mom’s “homemade mac and cheese” the most. According to his father William, living with Julie meant your life was surrounded by amazing music, delicious food and unrelenting love.
“We are all going to miss her,” William said. “In our own special ways.”
Jack Norcross and Maeve Ashbrook contributed to the reporting of this story.