I’ve known this man for over three decades. For more than half of my life, he has been my brother. And before he passes through the doorway of this life into the next, I wanted you to know somethings about Jeff, who offered his life in service to our country – following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather.
Born at a US Naval base in Japan, Jeff lived near the ocean most of his life – be it the Pacific in Northern California or the Atlantic in South New Jersey. After graduating from Rutgers, Jeff enlisted in the Navy. He is both an officer and a gentleman. With a strong jawline and his movie star chin, Jeff has crystal blue eyes like Paul Newman. I am convinced that this is what first got my sister’s attention.
Jeff and Jane (my sister) brought their last child into the world, just a few hours before my wife and I welcomed our first. Emily is the third of three amazing kids who share Jeff’s DNA, and she is my goddaughter. They named their oldest son after my brother, Andrew. But somewhere after telling him and filling out the birth certificate, my name became his. Katie is in-between.
Jeff is good at growing things – be it a garden or a family or his own intellect. And whenever we were on vacation at Prince Edward Island, Jeff arose every morning and went to Tim Hortons to ensure we had fresh donuts so that he could grow my stomach. He is as sweet as his sweet tooth. Although we were brothers from another mother, we also became friends. I could say it was the donuts, but really it was his kindness that grew my heart fonder. But this took some time.
The two stories of Jeff I will always hold in my heart are as such. The first happened on a very cold morning in Italy. Jeff was still getting used to our family, and adapting to our insane way of traveling. Long story short, Jeff needed to use the bathroom. The problem was we were on our private tour bus in the middle of remote and rural Tuscany. Jeff was an officer, and did things by the book. Using nature as a bathroom would not suffice. But that could only last for so long. Eventually, the bus pulled over and Jeff walked out into the field; a bit shy and very embarrassed. I was right behind him, unashamed and proud, to do my business as well.
Being the childish younger brother that I am, I picked up a rock and threw it in the bushes to startle him. Jeff did not like that. He turned around, took his seat back on the bus, and did not say a word until we pulled into a small village for lunch. A little more civilized this time, we both made a beeline to the restrooms. It was there Jeff gave me, let’s call it “a stern talking to.” Because of what I did, Jeff was unable to do what he needed to.
I felt horrible. I had no idea. It’s not like these things came up during conversations. In that moment, in that bathroom, I learned some things about myself and about Jeff. Most importantly, he is a man of honor and can speak hard words with a gentle heart
First stop was to the ATM for some money. As I was standing in line, I noticed the woman in the car in front of us was none other than Jennie Garth, who plays Kelly Taylor. Only problem I had is I couldn’t get their attention to notice. Again, this is way before cellphones were popular and they certainly didn’t have cameras. That didn’t matter, everywhere we went we saw famous people; TV stars, movie stars, and even a few rock stars. None of which they recognized.
I could stop the story here, and say Jeff just isn’t into pop culture the way most people are. But when we decided to hit the Coach and Horses pub near my house for a nightcap, it was Jeff who recognized one of the only three people in the place. And it wasn’t Ginger the bartender.
Before all of us were in the door, Jeff turned around and said, “We can go now, I saw someone famous.” Who? I thought as my eyes adjusted to the dark bar. “Quentin Tarantino.” Instead of leaving, we ordered our drinks and waited for his friend to go to the bathroom so they could get a photograph.
Long story short, his friend goes to the bathroom and Jane and Jeff get the courage to ask, his friend returns only to hear my sister scream out, “Oh my God, I’ve loved you since Facts of Life.” And that’s how we met George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino.
I cherish the photograph I took of the four of them at the bar. Not just because it's one of a very few pictures that I have of Jeff where his eyes are open, or because he and my sister are smiling so happily, I like it because it captures the relaxed nature of Jeff that wasn't always shown publicly.
He earned the nickname ‘Mr. Safety’ by his adopted family. Those stories are for his kids to tell. He is always good about showing up to help my parents who live down the street. And he's never shy about handing you a plate to dry from the stack he is washing after a meal (something I swear he does to get out of talking with my crazy family, although that’s still up for debate). But I can say this, when you’re with Jeff you feel relaxed and welcomed.
When I am around him I can’t help but feel a sense of pride, presence of joy and grace, and the warm beam of light that always seems to shine through him. There is so much to say about him. I suspect there will be more written about him sooner than anyone would like. Especially someone as humble as Jeff.
He is an officer and a gentle man. But moreover, he's my big brother today and for all eternity.
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”