When the pastor of Life Church Nazareth told us on Saturday that your memorial service had been planned by you more than a year ago, I was not surprised. Your academic and personal interest has been leadership, and great leaders find opportunities where others do not. An auditorium of hundreds of mourners, your friends and relatives, provided a captive audience.
The four chosen to provide a few remembrances were sequenced well. Your colleague from DeSales University, Dr. David Gilfoil, introduced us to the term “Brofessor,” and regaled us with stories of your accomplishments (Professor of the Year, to start) and your commitment to the DeSales mission of “fostering dynamic relationships and moral, spiritual, and intellectual virtues, to grow as a community…” It was unsurprising to hear that your frequent conversations with him after work about students, teaching and a general philosophy of life continued for hours, something all good “Brofessors” accommodate.
Mike Coelho, an undergraduate friend from Central Connecticut State University, reflected on those college days and the friendship that endured and strengthened over the years, particularly early on before cell phones and email, when friends had to write or use a landline. After hearing the lesson about a life well-lived if the number of close friends was no more than one’s five fingers, I understood why your relationship with him was so special. He confirmed your love of high-performance cars (reiterated later), and his story about the three-hour return trip to Pennsylvania in a specially selected Corvette last summer that lasted six hours thanks to heavy traffic was touching.
Ted Christensen, your brother-in-law, shared family stories beginning with the first time he met you (he was 26, dating your sister, and you were 12), your move from Massachusetts to Connecticut to live with them after your father’s death, your love of cars and a wonderful detailing sideline in high school, and your successful entrepreneurship before the urge to teach inspired you to change careers. I particularly enjoyed his story about you backing out of the garage but forgetting to open the door since I did likewise some years ago.
You chose wisely when you selected your son, Nick, to conclude the remembrances, joined by daughters Jackie and Monica and your loving wife, Wanda. We often shared family stories during our doctoral journey at the University of Pennsylvania. Listening to him recount these stories confirmed for me your paternal devotion and success. He never wavered; he paused when the memory might have been tough, but I am certain that he and his sisters will perpetuate your legacy.
Pastor Jon Schwartz delivered an excellent sermon confirming your steadfast faith in Christianity and your acceptance of all individuals regardless of their faith. There were no surprises. His references to Old and New Testament scriptures triggered a “eureka” moment for me, reflecting back on our cohort’s international higher education module and trip to South Africa. I remember that you wrote a paper reflecting on the responses from South Africans to two questions: “Do you believe in God?” and, only asked of those responding affirmatively, “Since you believe in God, why do you think He allowed Apartheid to occur in South Africa?” I witnessed your discussion with a tour guide and former political prisoner on Robben Island, and it is etched in my memory. I only wish I had asked to read your paper.
Concluding Saturday’s celebration with a Justin Timberlake video Can’t Stop the Feeling sent me off with a smile, and I am sure you included it just for that reason. Several of us then came together to share a few stories and toast to your memory, cut short way too soon. We were grateful that Wanda arranged the FaceTime call between you and 14 of our cohort just two weeks earlier, and most of those unable to attend the service conveyed their condolences to her and your family.
Each speaker at your service noted your expressed belief in making a difference daily as soon as you rise, and how you made such a difference in others’ lives, especially theirs. Jeff, you indeed made a difference to many in life, and your actions will similarly inspire others to do likewise in years ahead. Thank you for your friendship, love and inspiration! Cheers to you (while enjoying a glass of your favorite Cabernet)!