Jerald Lee "Jerry" Newberry was born at home June 18, 1947, in Bland County, Va., where his family has lived since the 1700s. Jerry Newberry was the fourth child of six born to June Elizabeth (Mustard) and Maynard Allen Newberry. He died peacefully after suffering a series of strokes, and the discovery of advanced pancreatic cancer, in the early morning of Sunday, June 24, 2018, at The Moorings in Lewes.
Jerry grew up on the family dairy farm nestled in the Appalachian Mountains of southwestern Virginia. He would often say that he learned the importance of hard work, family, ingenuity, community and love of nature from the farm - also that he never wanted to be a farmer.
Religion was a major influence in his life. He was not the sort to talk much about religion; he was the sort who lived it daily. He was surrounded by Methodist ministers. His great-grandfather, the Rev. William Neal Baker, was a circuit Methodist preacher, and his uncle, the Rev. Gerald Mustard, was a minister, professor and dean of the Methodistkirken in Norge School of Divinity in Norway. His grandmother, the Rev. Billie Baker Mustard, was the third woman Methodist minister in the United States.
Jerry attended Virginia Tech's Wytheville Community College and was awarded a scholarship to attend Emory and Henry College, for which he was always grateful, and received a bachelor's degree. He also earned a master's degree in educational counselling from George Mason University. As an undergraduate he was a member of Theta Chi Epsilon fraternity and of the College Choir, with which he made a national tour. He had an extraordinary voice. He was shy about singing (one of the few things of which he was bashful) unless with a group or in church. There, many people would turn in astonishment as he launched into a hymn and his voice filled the sanctuary. He made his operatic debut at Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires in December. There on a tour, it was asked if anyone would like to sing to test the acoustics; there are no microphones or speakers. Jerry, after much prodding, belted out "Don't Cry for Me Argentina." His voice filled every inch of the famous opera house that holds 2,500 people. Tourists and workers and stage hands looked up and became suddenly quiet; when he finished they applauded. Jerry was singing Eva Peron's song in the Presidential Box, exactly where she had stood.
Jerry was passionate about education and loved kids, probably because he was a big kid himself (as anyone who has ever been the recipient of a Jerry practical joke will attest) and worked with schools, teachers, administrators and school children for over 40 years. He taught for one year at Rippon Landing Middle School in Prince William County, Va., and then moved to Lake Braddock Middle School in Fairfax County, Va., where he taught English and social studies. After completing his master's degree he became a middle school guidance counselor at Lake Braddock. He also built a private children and family counseling practice.
He then joined the Fairfax County Public School administration, working in the Family Life Education Division. That division wrote curriculum later delivered by health and physical education teachers. It included the "facts of life," and with considerable pushing from Jerry and a few colleagues branched to include LGBT information. That move sparked a virulent outcry from segments of the community opposed to any discussion of non-heterosexual matters. Over their objections, and to Jerry's great dismay, LGBT material did not become a part of the curriculum.
Jerry was recruited to be the executive director of the Health Information Network at National Education Association in 1998. There his passion for children and his determination to make schools safe and welcoming and supportive was fully utilized. Jerry developed and managed programs and secured private funding that met the needs of children in a positive and proactive manner. These included ensuring that underserved children received a nutritious breakfast before school started; establishing a program that ensured quality indoor air for schools, removing mold and asbestos and other harmful pollutants; developing a school safety program and resources that dealt with severe weather emergencies; preventing playground injuries and childhood accidents; removal of junk food from school cafeterias; teaching tolerance, violence prevention, and LGBT safety and harassment prevention. The greatest sorrow of his career was his inability to address gun violence in America's schools. Each slaughter of innocent children, teachers and staff affected him deeply, and he attended the funerals of many of the sacrificed innocents.
He attributed his understanding of unconditional love to his mother, June Mustard Newberry. She worked incredibly hard on the family farm with her husband, with little help, and raised six children. In her 40s she taught Jerry that dreams can come true, with not a little effort. She returned to school, got her GED and then LPN and RN degrees, fulfilling a lifelong desire to be a nurse. Like his mother, who was incredibly kind, accepting, gentle and generous, he could not hold a grudge. He forgave people who had attempted to sabotage his career; he forgave the fanatics (who were furious with his efforts to introduce tolerance and safety for LGBT students into the Fairfax County schools) who harassed and stalked him and finally spray painted his home with profanities; he forgave contractors who cheated him; and he forgave those close to him who endorsed politicians who were committed to taking away, and preventing him from exercising, his fundamental rights.
Jerry never saw a fixer-upper he couldn't transform. He gutted, remodeled and rebuilt homes in Alexandria, Washington, Rehoboth Beach and on Isle au Haut. He helped anyone in need with home repairs (he knew "a guy" for every possible task), walked first-time nervous home buyers through the process, guided and usually supervised projects of friends, and friends of friends doing renovations. With Mat, and without Mat, he looked at scores of homes across the U.S. and in Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, Canada and Latin America. No vacation was complete without a visit to the local real estate office and a few viewings. He was drawing up plans for a major revamp of Mat's and his home on Rehoboth Bay.
There is a wall in his grandchildren's bunk room in Rehoboth Beach that holds some of his awards. There are over a dozen, together with photographs of Jerry with people he admired, including Al Gore, and soon, he hoped, his neighbor Joe Biden with whom he'd have coffee at Browseabout Books.
Jerry was married to Lyn McNeill Jenks, the mother of their children. They later divorced and remained friends and proud parents. He was predeceased by his parents and grandparents Mary Katherine (Eaton) and John Alexander Newberry, and Billie Jane (Baker) and Estol Shell Mustard.
He is survived by his treasured children: daughter Erin Elizabeth and her husband Joseph Patrick Gerber of Portland, Ore., and their four children, Michael McNeill Gerber, Gwyenth June Gerber, Finley Elizabeth Gerber and Benton Gerber; his son Matthew McNeill Newberry and his wife Shannon Jones Newberry and their two children: Theodore "Theo" McNeill Newberry and Ainsley June Newberry of Redwood City, Calif. His life and business partner Matthew Hastings of Rehoboth Beach and Isle au Haut, Maine also survives.
He is survived by four brothers: Estol Allen and his wife Norma (Guthrie) Newberry of Bland, Va., John Eaton Newberry of Roanoke, Va., Jimmy Baker and his wife Sylvia (Royce) Newberry of South Ryegate, Vt., Larry Crockett Newberry and his lifelong friend and co-parent Christy Lynn Pugh of Bland and Radford, Va.; and sister Deborah Jane (Newberry) and her husband Malcolm Craig Boothe of Pulaski, Va.
Each niece and nephew and cousin was special to Jerry. He was deeply interested in their lives and excited about their endless possibilities. They are: Ryan Allen and Amy (Jackson) Newberry of Fort Chiswell, Va., Brian Samuel and Christine Asta Lloyd-Newberry of Colchester, Vt., Edith Marie (Newberry) and John Michael Fogarty of West Newbury, Vt., Bonnie June "BJ" (Boothe) and her husband Daniel Ratliff, and Lacie Ann (Boothe) and her husband Noland Ryan Jones, all of Pulaksi. His youngest niece, Amanda Kathryn Newberry, was wed to Marcus Allen Clausen, both of Roanoke, Va., on the day before his death. He was terribly disappointed to be unable to attend in person, but delighted that his daughter Erin and her family made the trip from Oregon for the celebrations.
His great-nieces and -nephews were an entirely new and exciting opportunity for laughter and great fun. They are Haley Michelle Newberry and Hannah Grace Newberry, Ayden Reilly Lloyd Newberry, John Higgins Fogarty and Elizabeth Marie Fogarty, Valley Rhea Ratliff and Gabriella Anne Clausen. He is also survived by more than a dozen children of friends who loved and relied on Uncle Jerry.
In the last five weeks of his life on this earth he had the opportunity to be visited and contacted by so many of his friends and loved ones. He received over 120 get-well cards and averaged 10 visitors a day. Their visits were the very best gift that they could possibly have given Jerry - just being there or sending him their love.
Jerry had an endless supply of love, warmth and generosity - which he freely bestowed on people he knew and didn't know. He loved nothing more than making food and feeding people, lots of people - many met that day. He would drive miles out of his way to guide a total stranger to their destination, because he wasn't sure they'd make it otherwise. He'd buy homeless people meals, and take them to thrift shops for warm clothes, and help set up job interviews. He once offered a room to a total stranger from Belgium whom he had overheard had his hotel reservation cancelled. He was one of the few people who would bring food to the staff of his favorite restaurants because he was certain they were bored with the same fare day in and day out.
He was a true and trusted and dear friend to so many people, both with whom he interacted personally through his family and friendships and teaching, and with literally thousands of others who never knew his name. So many benefited from his guidance and determination and creativity and sacrifice to make America's schools safer and America's schoolchildren happier, more accepting of themselves, and their families stronger. He was often interviewed by the media, but was particularly proud of his spirited conversation about school safety on the "Dr. Phil Show."
As one of his friends remarked, "Everything was an adventure with Jerry - a trip to Home Depot (where he was on a first-name basis with most of the employees) became an event you would not soon forget." Jerry's entire life was an adventure in loving, caring, advocating, helping, underwriting, bailing out and just being there. As one of his numerous "petites" said, "He was the only person who understood me."
For the many people who will say without hesitation that Jerry Newberry saved their lives, or that he was the most important person or one of, if not, the most important person to them in their world, or for whom he made a little happier and more self-accepting, his death is a deep and sorrowful loss.
The likes of Jerry Newberry are rare - and those who had the honor and privilege to be loved by him, and to love him, understand how deeply fortunate they were. The best tribute to Jerry would be to be a little kinder to yourself and others, and to laugh and sing at any opportunity, especially when inappropriate.
A memorial service will be held Monday, Aug. 13, at 1 p.m., at Epworth United Methodist Church in Rehoboth Beach. It will be officiated by the Rev. Ryan Justus Cogswell, whom Jerry has known since Ryan was a child. There will also be a service Saturday, July 7, at noon, at Central United Methodist Church in Bland.
In lieu of flowers, donations in Jerry's name can be made to Emory and Henry College at https://www.ehc.edu/giving/give-online/, The Cape Henlopen Educational Foundation at https://www.chef-cape.org/, and Know One Teach One, a Vietnamese disadvantaged youth training program he particularly admired, at http://www.koto.com.au/donate.
The family would like to thank the staff at The Moorings, Vitas Hospice, Washington Medical Center, National Rehabilitation Hospital, Thomas Jefferson Hospital Comprehensive Stroke Center and Beebe Healthcare for their professionalism, kindness, support and caring.
Condolences can be left by going to www.parsellfuneralhomes.com.