LC Van Savage
As I Remember JEEK
One of the joys of writing this column (and there are many,) is that I get a chance to talk about people who’ve mattered to me in my lifetime and I can tell them why that was, and I get to thank them. Sure, some have passed on (why can’t we just say “died”?) but there are some religious beliefs that state one can say or write nice things about the dearly departed and yes, they’ll get the message.
Thus, I’m hoping Virginia T. Kearns will “read” this somewhere in the great beyond so she’ll know how much she meant to me. To everyone actually.
Ginny was a fixture in the school I attended on Staten Island, having actually attended it herself in the 1930s, and had fallen so in love with it that after she graduated in 1936 she stayed to work there as school secretary for her very first job, and never left. She was cool long before it was cool for adults to be cool.
She’d been born in Brooklyn, NY and her accent always gave her away, but she moved to SI in 1920 where her family did very well. She became a golf and tennis champion, and belonged in her later years to a fairly exclusive country club which actually had a Men’s Grill where no women were allowed, not even to clean, and where women were not allowed to use the golf course on Wednesdays. Ginny, an avid golfer, railed against all that and did get those stodgy old rules changed. Well, maybe not the sacrosanct Men’s Grill. But she worked on it and became a huge annoyance to the old guard who passionately believed women had their place.
Ginny always allowed kids to call her by her first name off the school grounds, but she was Miss Kearns in the office where she worked all the time, especially when the principal was nearby. She was so good to all the kids, always had time for them, remembered everything about them even decades later. She taught me so much, did Ginny. She insisted I occasionally dismount from my personal high horse and be more gentle and forgiving, although sometimes I still forget. She taught me what friendship should be. She taught me to listen. She insisted I do my homework and to stop trying to weasel out of it. She told me to go to college. She told me that she agreed my parents probably were jerks, (good friends of hers actually) but that, too bad, I had to play by their rules anyway.
Ginny, or Jeek as I called her (the blending of her initials GK—Jeek) had a past, or so we all thought. All the students wondered why she remained unmarried but the rumor was that because she was a devout Catholic, she’d had to turn down her one and only suitor, the love of her life, when he asked her to marry him because he was not a Catholic and never intended to become one. Thus we all detected great sadness in her face when there really was none.
She was a woman who not only remembered everyone’s names, but the students’ new spouses’ names, their children’s and eventually grandchildren’s names. She was phenomenal.
When Jeek finally retired, she was given a fur coat, a big fat check, a big shiny new car and hundreds of personal letters, mine being the longest. The school named a new building for her. She lived on the school grounds.
Jeek was tough, strong, smart and beloved by all. She fought for what she thought was right and almost always won. And the best thing she ever taught me was that when you moisten an envelope’s flap for sealing, sit on it and the flap will never loosen. I still can’t mail a letter without first doing that. I miss you,Jeek.
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