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Arts & Culture

Remembering Emily Haynes, "Lover Of Life" And Live Music

Emily Haynes
Brooke Brown
Emily Haynes often sang a cappella, or with her husband Jeff on the banjo.

To Jeff Haynes of Charleston, the love story between him and his wife Emily was “one for the books.”

Having both grown up in the Kanawha Valley area, attending junior high together in Dunbar, Haynes said the two “used to slow dance to Journey’s ‘Open Arms’ at school dances.”

“You know, I always had a crush on her,” he recalled. “We always had kind of an admiration for each other.”

Emily Hope Gunter Haynes died from COVID-19 on Friday, Nov. 27. She was 47 years old.

Emily graduated from Hurricane High School in 1991. After earning a degree in textile designs and merchandising from West Virginia and Marshall universities, she moved to Portland, Oregon, and worked for several snowboarding companies.

Emily returned to West Virginia in 2003, and worked on advertising for Charleston Newspapers. A couple years later, she was diagnosed with myasthenia gravis, a neuromuscular disease that happens when the body’s immune system attacks connections between nerve and muscle, weakening a person’s ability to move.

Four weeks after having a medical procedure to suppress her immune system, Emily was downtown Charleston when a mutual friend told her that Jeff was working at the Capitol Market.

“She was four weeks post-op from having a thymectomy,” he recalled. “And despite all that, we went on a date that night.”

In the 20 years since junior high, Jeff and Emily learned they went to several of the same concerts and live performances.

“We were in a lot of the same places at the same time, but we just never ran into each other in a crowd of 30,000 people,” Jeff said.

A year later, they eloped with his son to the Oregon coast.

Their marriage of 15 years involved live music, whether it was concerts in Asheville or Louisville, performances at Charleston’s Mountain Stage or open mic events at East End bars, like Bluegrass Kitchen and the Empty Glass.

A lot of times, the Haynes would perform as the “Westmoreland Ramblers.” Jeff played banjo, and Emily would sing hearty, soul-filled mountain ballads. Sometimes, she danced.

“She was also a mountain-dancer from childhood,” Jeff said. “And even with the grave muscle weakness, if our friends were picking, you know, old time music and bluegrass music, she would get up and she could dance a hole on the floor.”

As West Virginia battled the coronavirus pandemic and Emily’s condition got worse, Jeff said they knew it was a risk every time she had to visit the hospital, due to her weakened immune system.

Emily tested positive for the coronavirus around Nov. 14. She was put on a ventilator the following week, and died about five days later.

“People need to understand that it's real,” Jeff said. “That people who are immunocompromised, elderly, sick, diabetic like myself ... people are vulnerable.

“When you lose someone that you love so dearly, and it takes away a person who is as special as my wife was to so many people. … For me, it just drives the point home that people need to take this seriously.”

Following Emily’s death, several friends and neighbors raised almost $7,700 by Wednesday for her family on a GoFundme page, describing Emily as a “bubbly, brilliant and bright star in the community,” who was “deeply loved” and will be “profoundly missed.”

“My wife loved life. She was a lover of life,” Jeff said. “And that's that's how I want her to be remembered.”

On Wednesday, the Department of Health and Human Resources reported that more than 770 West Virginians have died from COVID-19 since March.

If you have lost a family member or close friend to the coronavirus and would like to share their story, we would like to help. Please fill out our Google form and a reporter will be in touch.

Emily Allen is a Report for America corps member.


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