Before eulogizing her son, Jackie Boatwright thanked but gently corrected those who had offered condolences for her “loss.”
“Nothing is ever lost when you know where something is,” she said during “home going” services Saturday. “And I know where Anthony DeJuan Boatwright is.”
DeJuan, nicknamed “Juan,” was called an angel by many who attended his services at Paine College’s Gilbert-Lambuth Memorial Chapel. He lived only 10 more years after suffering brain damage at 14 months at a Hephzibah day care in 2001, but his tragedy led to new child care laws in Georgia and Virginia.
That is a legacy many able-bodied people will not leave behind, said speakers who honored Juan’s life.
“Because of Juan, I rest easier knowing that my grandson is in day care,” said actress JoMarie Payton, known for her role in the TV show Family Matters.
Juan’s Law requires day cares in Georgia to tell parents whether they have liability insurance. That was not the case in 2001 when Juan wandered into the kitchen of his day care and fell into a mop bucket filled with a mixture of bleach and water.
The accident inspired Boatwright to lobby lawmakers to pass legislation that could help prevent other children from suffering the same fate.
State Rep. Billy Mitchell, of Stone Mountain, who introduced the bill, said getting the law passed in 2004 was one of his biggest accomplishments. He offered comfort to Boatwright, her family and friends that though Juan had a short life, he will always be remembered through the law named after him.
“We shouldn’t mourn the fact that he’s no longer here,” Mitchell said. “We should rejoice that we’re all given a task on this earth and if we don’t fulfill that task it won’t get done. God would say, ‘Well done, Juan. You have served your task well.’ ”
Mayor Deke Copenhaver offered similar sentiments, praising Boatwright in how she “took tragedy and turned it into triumph.”
Boatwright, dressed in a white pantsuit with gold blouse to match the colors of Juan’s small coffin, credited him with giving her the strength to fight on his behalf.
She recounted how the two had to learn to communicate because he couldn’t talk. She would notice that his heart rate would rise on the machine monitoring his vital signs when she called his name.
“I told him one day I know you can talk, and every day he would try to move his tongue, and then he would try to babble,” Boatwright said.
That he never walked again after the accident or called her mama didn’t matter in the end, she said. He loved her and she loved him.
“For every twist of his body, he was perfect,” Boatwright said. “For every machine he was attached to, he was perfect.”