Jay Greenleaf died on June 7th, 2011. He would have been 50 years old in August. He was a husband, father of three, and a pillar of the community. He was also my friend. Actually that is a gross understatement. He was a brother, a confidant, and someone I could trust completely.
I met Jay in the fall of 1980. He was an incoming freshman from Irving, Texas. I was the rush chairman for the Kappa Alpha Order and we were down to ten guys. My challenge to our group was every guy get a little brother and if you are good enough get two.
Jay had been to the KA house before. The previous spring he had attended an event called High School Weekend. Prospective students would arrive on campus and stay Friday through Sunday. James Rivera had been assigned to show Jay around. That encounter went something like this. Standing in the middle of Woodlawn Avenue, James began to point at different landmarks. ” You have Brown Chapel, the library, the music building, and the playhouse. Behind them are the science building, administration building, the cafeteria, and the dorms. Do you want to go to the KA house and get a beer?”
Jay pledged KA. I was his pledge trainer and I really liked the kid with the cherubic face and the easy smile. He didn’t take himself too seriously and none of us knew until years later that Jay had graduated near the top of his class in high school.
Jay had a good time in college and to list all his various escapades, that included adventures involving closets and rooftops, would justify a whole column unto itself. The fact was everybody who met Jay liked him and enjoyed being around him. Jay was also a fierce competitor. He was short but made up for that by being slow. Never the less when he played sports, whether it was flag football, basketball, or even shooting pool, Jay gave it everything he had.
Jay moved onto law school at LSU with his Big Brother in KA, Jimmy Burke. Burke was my little brother so the three of us did a lot together. I visited them in Baton Rouge a couple of times and stayed in something that resembled a house. It was during this time that Jay met Aprile Russell and his life would never be the same.
Jay was not exactly a lady killer in college. He was often disheleved and wearing a baseball cap. So when we, his friends, found out that Jay was in a relationship we were curious to see what this woman was like. To our surprise she was pretty, kind, considerate, and also a visionary. Aprile saw the promise in Jay and knew that he would not only be a devoted husband, but that he would be a great father and provider as well. He proved her right on all three counts.
After Jay and Aprile got married they bought a little house in Shreveport and began starting a family. Watching Jay relate to his children was an amazing experience. He challenged them but also supported them. He expected their best but always with unconditional love for them. The fact that all three are remarkable young people in their own right is another testament to both Jay and Aprile.
Jay had applied himself in law school and graduated high enough in his class to be able to gain a position with a top firm in Shreveport. He practiced there with distinction and soon earned the right to represent some of the firm’s top clients. One of those was Anderson Oil and Gas.
Like Aprile, Bill and Hank Anderson saw the promise in Jay and decided that they wanted him on their team. You see Jay was a triple threat. He was a distinguished lawyer, had graduated with a degree in accounting so he understood balance sheets and income statements, and he was a voracious learner. Jay was always trying to get better, to learn something new. He gave that company a new spark and over a ten year period they became a much more diverse and dynamic place. Most importantly he didn’t commit to anything on behalf of AO&G unless he knew in his heart it benefitted the company and specifically Bill and Hank. Jay summed it up in one sentence. “Bill depends on me.”
It was during this time that Jay’s social conscience became self aware. He became an active youth coach for his children and others, he taught Sunday School and lead his church board, eventually helping to start a brand new church. He was on the board of Volunteers of America and he delivered Meals on Wheels every Thursday. And he didn’t just drop off those meals, he visited with Mrs. Cathcart and Mr. Stewart. He knew their life stories and their medical conditions. He cared.
When Jay committed it was 100%. On the times we were involved in projects together I would often find an e-mail on my blackberry that had been sent at 3:00 A.M. When I approached him about contributing to a fund raiser for the care facility my sons resided in he gave me the single largest donation I had ever received from anyone. And he gave it every year after that. When my wife and I moved back to Shreveport to be closer to our sons Jay went out of his way to help us integrate back into the community. He even let me coach his daughter’s basketball team with him. I paid him back by helping him get kicked out of a game but that too is another story.
Over a year ago I had pressure in my chest and had to go to the emergency room. Both of my sons, profoundly autistic, were with my wife and I. I knew my wife would need help. I called Jay. He came to the hospital, stayed several hours, took my oldest son to my house, and then he and his daughter spent the night with my wife to help her watch both boys. I used to tease Jay that he couldn’t watch my boys because they were so active. He was with me in the hospital after I awoke from my emergency open heart surgery to remove a benign tumor and informed that he had in fact , by his account, successfully watched both boys. I later learned that my youngest son had in fact gotten out of the house twice. When I asked Jay about it his reply was that he had gotten him back both times. We laughed about that a lot…. after I got better!
In the five years that I have lived in Shreveport since my return Jay and I probably never went more than two days without talking to each other. We took a lot of sports related trips and built many memories, memories I thought we would share together into old age. Most recently at a dinner in New Orleans I made a remark on something that apparently I was not supposed to be privy too. Aprile turned to my wife and in an exasperated voice said ” They tell each other everything!”
I miss my friend very much. We worked in the same office building and there are still times when I think that I see him walking out of the corner of my eye. When I watch a basketball game and my phone vibrates for a second I think it is him sending me a text, something we did a lot when watching events from our respective homes.
Jay would have hated the fuss his funeral caused and would have never believed that between 1,500 and 1,800 people would have come to his visitation. But I was not surprised. One of the qualities that made Jay so special was that he could connect with everyone he met with a genuine sense of appreciation and respect.
So I will remember Jay and I wrote this so others will remember him too, even if Jay would prefer I didn’t. The world needs more people like Jay and if reading about him makes someone decide to perhaps do a little more for their family or community then perhaps some good can be derived from losing him. That is something I know Jay would like and approve of.
What an inspiring message about our friend! I enjoyed
reading every word. You are everything you
mentioned regarding Jay’s character. I appreciate
your honesty, loyalty & your friendship. I have shared
with you how I consider you to be a friend, brother and
mentor. I’m believe just knowing you & Jay has
assisted me in being a better young woman. What
a wonderful way to honor Aprile’s Pookie! (smile)
Take care of yourself & know that you, Jen & I WILL
be friends forever!
All I can say Merrill, is thank you! That was a wonderful post.
Merrill, your post was definately from the heart. Jay was such a wonderful nephew, he didn’t call alot, but when he did he talked for at least an hr!! He also was very good to my Mother, he came w/his family for her 90th bday and also w/Lori when she died at 94. I will miss him and love his family. He was lucky to have such a good friend as you are. Love, Beth
What an absolutely beautiful tribute to Jay. I loved it and could read about Jay all day long. Bless you.