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Tragedy turned into a blessing

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Beth Justice (left), daughter Morgan (right) and the band Sweet Justice performed at The National in Richmond last Friday night on the one-year anniversary of the fire that destroyed their home in Urbanna and left Beth unable to sing for months. (Photo courtesy of Beth Justice)

by Larry Chowning

The first anniversary of a tragic fire that destroyed the historic Burton House at 49 Watling Street in Urbanna, home of Beth Justice and her husband Rod McMordie, was on January 6, 2019. 

The January 6, 2018 fire left Justice barely conscious and fighting for her life. While escaping the fire, she slipped and fell on icy steps hitting her head and breaking an ankle.

That, however, was not the worst of it! When the rescue squad arrived, she was having trouble breathing and when she arrived at the hospital doctors found that she had dangerous internal burns to her lungs. They also found an unexpected tumor in her right lung.

“Sometimes the worst of situations can turn out to be a positive life-changing blessing,” said Justice this week. When doctors did a body scan of Justice they found a tumor inside her right lung that was blocking her ability to breathe normally. The tumor was benign but because of the location of the tumor doctors could remove only a portion of it to relieve blockage of her air passageway. 

It was six months before she gained enough strength from the broken ankle and fire damage to her lungs for doctors to be able to operate and remove a portion of the tumor.

“I had been living for years with this blockage in my lung and did not know it,” said Justice. “When I woke up from the operation, I could not believe how good it felt to be able to breathe normally.”

Another blessing came when Justice realized she had a new sound in her singing voice. She and her husband are part of the rock-and-roll band Sweet Justice. “I have a higher voice now than I have ever had,” she said.

Right before the fire in 2018, Sweet Justice played on a Friday night for a Led Zeppelin tribute with the band Zoso at The National in Richmond. Beth and the band took the stage again last Friday night on the one-year anniversary of the fire.

The official cause of the fire was ruled “electrical” as a result of a space heater, said Justice. McMordie and Justice lost everything in the fire, including their vehicles and six of their pets.

Justice said she wants to thank people for the outpouring of help and concern they have received over the year-long process. “I was stunned by the support that Rod and I received,” she said. A GoFundMe account was set up and the Town of Urbanna office was used to receive donated clothes. Also, over 30 bands in Richmond and elsewhere did fundraisers to help with their expenses. “It was horrible to wake up and everything you own is gone. But, we were thrilled that we were alive and thrilled over the amount of support we received from so many people.”

A new house will soon be built on the fire site by Virginia Building Solutions of Tappahannock. Portions of the concrete wall in front of the house site will be torn down to allow for an access driveway from Watling Street. 

House plans and entrance requirements have been approved by Virginia Department of Transportation, Urbanna Historical and Architectural Review Board, and all other entities involved, Justice said.

The house construction is scheduled to start this week and be completed by July 2019. “We are so looking forward to moving back home,” she said. “We plan for this to be our home for the rest of our lives.”

posted 01.09.2019

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