Jerald Lee “Jerry” Newberry
18th June 1947 – 24th June 2018
He Loved and Was Loved
Born at home on 18th June 1947 in Bland County, Virginia, where his family has lived since the 1700’s. Jerald Lee “Jerry” Newberry was the fourth child of six 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 24th June 2018 at “The Moorings” in Lewes, Delaware.
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 Rev. William Neal Baker was a circuit Methodist preacher and his uncle Rev. Gerald Mustard was a minister, professor and Dean of the Methodistkirken in Norge School of Divinity in Norway. His grandmother, 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.
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, Virginia and then moved to Lake Braddock Middle School in Fairfax County, Virginia 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 LBGT 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 quality 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 as well as 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.
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 to be a little kinder to yourself and others, and to laugh and sing at any opportunity; especially when inappropriate.