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.
But I'm also sure that within just a few short sentences, it was his kind and gentle heart that won her over. It's not that surprising considering how amazing Jeff's heart is. And he's never been afraid to show it. Even when it's grumpy.
He is a man of his word, few as they might be. He speaks of his faith freely. He thinks deeply before he speaks. I love that he likes to leave the conversation giving you thoughts to ponder. He is a worldly traveler, and a man who does not stray or wander.
Today, Jeff has pancreatic cancer. For a year, he has soldiered, fighting the toughest battle known to mankind. Living life. But he has not ever once given up on life or fighting for it
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
The second story happened in Hollywood, CA when Jane and Jeff came for a visit. “I don’t care where we go as long as we see someone famous.” No problem, I thought. I was fairly adept to finding those places (long before cell phones). “I don’t care who they are,” my sister added, “as long as they are from 90210 (the hottest TV show that year).” This could be a problem. But nonetheless, off we went.
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.