The Secret Jewel

Emily Donaldson’s Commitment to Jasper

Words by Ingrid Hogue| Image by Blakeney Clouse

As a child, Emily Donaldson loved her dad’s workspace. Somehow there was always a place in Jeff Donaldson’s law office for a child slurping a sucker, or coloring in the corner, or sitting in the lap of his secretary, who loved her like a grandmother. 

She gaped at her dad as he conversed with his clients. He was kind and methodical and determined. As she clung to his legs, she knew vaguely that he was standing up for people all over Jasper.  “There are limits to how much you can understand as a little kid,” Emily says. “You just knew that these people had problems and Dad was helping them.”

Emily wanted to help, too. As soon as she was able, she assumed responsibility of various jobs in the office: she was the janitor, then the runner, the secretary, and the law clerk. She came to understand intimately what it took to do what he did every day. She witnessed her father live consistently and whole-heartedly as he shouldered monumental issues in his neighbor’s lives, and when she graduated from law school at Ole Miss, she came back to Jasper and has been practicing with him ever since. 

“As many struggles as people face in the community,” Emily says, “there are so many people and resources that we have to help those. I am glad to be here and be a part of that.”

Week to week, she plunges into a schedule that is unpredictable and hard to prepare for, a hodgepodge of mundane and momentous. Regardless of the level of intensity and chaos, Emily says, “You just do it.” 

Emily believes in and contributes to efforts that bless people in Jasper. In the 14 years since graduation, Emily has been the president of Kiwanis Club and president of the Walker County Arts Alliance. She has joined the Grant Review Committee for the Walker Area Community Foundation, and is a member of the administrative board for First United Methodist Church. 

“Through my service in various organizations and my experience in the legal system, I have found there are so many organizations and people in our community who want to help others—we are really a close-knit, compassionate community,” Emily says. “I want to contribute to that and keep it going and growing.” 

Emily is deeply passionate about children, a mind-set that seeped into her from her mother, Brenda Donaldson. Brenda, an elementary teacher, “knew that children are our future and are so precious—if you don’t take care of them then you are not taking care of our future.” Emily pours herself into many areas of law, including representing children in legal matters and parents or grandparents in obtaining custody of children. 

And now Emily is raising two children of her own in the same environment that comprised her childhood. On days when childcare is unavailable, her 1-year-old and 2-year-old play with the cluster of toys in the corner of her office or toddle through the halls with their snack cups. Clients do not mind, she says, because “everyone’s kind of in it together.” 

In the evenings, Emily and her husband, Robin, enjoy putting their kids in the stroller and going to events downtown or out to dinner. “There is a joy in seeing your kids explore everything in town,” Emily says. “It’s like reliving your childhood—except there are even more opportunities and things to take advantage of now.”

Emily has not always been so deeply nestled in Jasper. For six years, she commuted from Birmingham. “After 5o’clock, downtown Jasper was dead,” she remembers. “Nothing was happening.” Most of her generation had left for similar reasons, and she had started searching for a house in Birmingham, “but the house I fell in love with was in Jasper.” When she got the call that the house was on the market, she immediately made an offer and moved in a month later. 

When Emily married Robin Brasher, who was living in Clanton, she says, “It was never a thought to move from here.” Emily’s close friends have followed her lead, and are seeping back into Jasper with spouses, kids, and businesses of their own. 

“Everyone goes away and realizes how great Jasper is. It’s like this secret jewel,” she says with light in her eyes. 

But Emily doesn’t keep the secret: she wears the jewel of Jasper like a crown. 78

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