Jennifer Neville, Special to The Catholic Virginian
Whether it’s organizing a funeral reception at her parish, St. Therese in Chesapeake, or volunteering in a classroom at Portsmouth Catholic Regional School (PCRS), people close to her say that if you ask Gerry Jones to help out, she will do so with joy.
“Gerry always is one of the first to say ‘Oh, I’ll do that,’ and she does with amazing love, dependability and quality, and she never expects anything in return,” said Donna Henry, PCRS assistant principal and first grade teacher.
Jones, a 1962 graduate of St. Paul’s Central Catholic High School (now closed) in Portsmouth, was recognized for her selfless service June 1 at PCRS’s yearly celebration for former and current Portsmouth Catholic school students, their families and “anyone who has an appreciation of Catholic education in Portsmouth.”
She was inducted into the alumni community’s Circle of Saints, which is an annual honor for someone with close ties to Catholic education and is usually a graduate who is “a living example of faith, knowledge, values and service,” Henry said.
Jones educated in Catholic schools. In addition to high school in Portsmouth, Jones, nee Javier, attended first grade at Holy Trinity, Norfolk, and second through eighth at St. Paul Elementary, Portsmouth, also now closed. Her Catholic education showed her “the importance of faith,” she said, adding that her faith has made her “a better person.”
Jones said her mother and grandmother taught her “to do for people what you would want them to do for you” and to look for ways “to enrich people’s lives.” As children, she and her sisters joined her grandmother in visiting patients at Portsmouth Naval Hospital.
A steadfast volunteer at PCRS, Jones has volunteered three times a week in Henry’s first grade classroom for nine years and continues to do “whatever is needed — running papers, preparing art activities, readying party experiences, listening to students read or just listening and so much more,” Henry said.
Jones said she strives to ensure the children “realize that God is the first purpose in life” and prayer and helping others are musts. She served as secretary of the school board for two terms, and has aided PCRS in countless other ways, such as helping with the annual auction, selling hot dogs at lunch and painting walls after the school’s roof was repaired.
“She is one of the most giving persons I have ever known,” PCRS principal Tom Guinane said. “She’ll do anything for anyone for any reason at any time. This woman is just amazing.”
Jones, a parishioner at St. Therese for 39 years, leads a ministry which provides food for funeral receptions. Through the Ladies of St. Therese, which she chairs, she organizes parishioners to make meals once a month for persons with AIDS in Norfolk, Suffolk, Portsmouth and Chesapeake.
She is a lector and an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist, has helped with the annual Food N Fun Fest for 27 years and has served on the parish council and finance committee.
“I’ve done everything except clean the toilets,” the quiet-spoken woman said with a gentle laugh, quickly adding that she doesn’t believe she “has done anything spectacular” to deserve the award.
Many disagree. Cindy Pauler, who has known Jones since high school, called Jones “a rock” for PCRS. Henry said Jones is the “go to exemplar who is quick to respond to anyone in need for prayer, a meal, a visit, a helping hand and kind heart.”
Father Kevin O’Brien, pastor of St. Therese, said whenever he seeks her assistance to organize a reception at the church, Jones “always, always, always is willing to find people to get involved.”
The impact of Jones’ volunteer efforts reach beyond her peer group. In a book the first grade class made to honor Jones, Katherine Cox wrote: “The best thing about Ms. Gerry is she is funny, loving, nice, thoughtful, caring and hopeful because she takes time out of her days to come here and help Ms. Henry.”
William Thorne wrote: “The best thing about Ms. Gerry is she shares stuff. Why? Because when someone needs something, she is always there to share. She’s the best because she gives others what they need.”