Jennifer Neville, Special to The Catholic Virginian

Jo Lynn Brown has been the face of Portsmouth Catholic Regional School (PCRS) for 38 years. Her joy, steadfast commitment to the school through work and volunteering, and willingness to help anyone in need earned her induction into the Portsmouth Catholic Alumni’s Circle of Saints.

This is the fourth year the alumni group has honored a person with ties to Portsmouth Catholic schools, but it is the first time an honoree hasn’t been a Catholic or a former student of a Portsmouth Catholic school.  Approximately 115 students, former students and parents paid tribute to her at the group’s celebration, Saturday, May 12.

Donna Henry, PCRS assistant principal, said Brown, who is retiring this month, earned the honor “by living a life that draws upon the Christ-centered teachings that call us to be faithful, knowledgeable and a contributing servant leader.”

Brown began working at PCRS in January 1980 as a part-time school clerk, becoming a full-time secretary in 1986. Individuals at the gathering said she was the go-to person when one had a question about the school because she either knew the answer or could find it. They emphasized she had been an ambassador for the school, as she answered the phone and was the first person one saw when walking into the office. She greeted everyone with joy and grace.

Judith Tanner, whose son attended PCRS from Pre-K to eighth grade, said she chose the school largely because of Brown.

“I knew my child would come in here and see a happy face, a caring face,” Tanner said.

Dinner participants described Brown with a plethora of attributes, including selfless, devoted, cheerful, uplifting, loving. They called her a legacy, a cornerstone and the heart of the school, lauding Brown’s uncanny ability to recognize people and know their names even if it’s been years since she last saw them. Some added that she can distinguish resemblances between people and can often deduce if a student has siblings or parents who have attended the school.

Mary Ellen Paul, PCRS principal, said, “Mrs. Brown puts students, families and guests before herself. Whether it’s a student who forgot his lunch or faculty and parents needing assistance, she will stop what she is doing and respond to the need.”

“She makes you feel important even over the tiniest matter.” said Scott Bailey, a former school board member who sent his two children to the school.

Brown has volunteered in a number of ways during her tenure. At one time she helped with an afterschool club for children in kindergarten through second grade, co-edited the yearbook and fashioned costumes for school plays. She served on the auction committee for 16 years.

“I always wanted to help and serve, but to be more behind the scenes,” she said.

Brown, who begins each day at home reading and reflecting on a Bible passage, credited God for her PCRS position. In December 1979, her job as secretary at a start-up construction company was terminated. Worried that she and her husband wouldn’t be able to pay their bills, she applied for the PCRS position as soon as her mother-in-law pointed out the advertisement in the local paper.

“I’ve always felt that God sent me to Portsmouth Catholic, and he had a special plan for my life,” Brown said.  “God blessed me. Now I pray God will show me what my next path is.”

Although Brown said she will miss the children, families and staff at PCRS, which she considers her second family, she is looking forward to having time to quilt, crochet and read more, or to spend more time at the Outer Banks and visiting her sister and aunt  in North Carolina. She may volunteer in the community, school or at West End United Methodist Church, Portsmouth, of which she is a member and where she has taught Sunday School for 35 years.

She said being Methodist in a Catholic school has never been an issue. The two religions, she explained, have similar teachings except Methodists do not place as much emphasis on saints and they see communion as symbolic. She added that she enjoyed attending the school Masses.

Brown’s demeanor did not go unnoticed by dinner participants.

“In all that she does, Jo Lynn displays an inspirational amount of passion, care, and kindness that will be experienced by all who know her,” Henry said.

As Bailey noted, “Mrs. Brown is the person you want to be your neighbor.”