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Today we celebrate the life of my dear friend, Jerome. Jerome, you were my teacher, my mentor and my dear friend. You provided me your counsel and wisdom. You shared your joyous smile and laugh. You shared your zest for life and the passion for all those things that were important to you.
I know you would want me to share my Jerome story with everyone. It is the story of a teacher and student, a mentor and a friend.
In 1984, Jerome’s first year at Duke, I was a first year law student. Jerome was my professor for Torts. We all got to know Jerome as more than just a professor. He joined in our after class pick-up basketball games and ran the court with his students. I had no idea at that time how important Jerome would become in my life.
During my first year of law school, I was particularly challenged by the workload and my concerns about my ability to do as well as my peers. Jerome and I had many personal conversations where he encouraged me and told me to keep working hard. He assured me my performance would ultimately be reflective of how hard I worked.
The first year of law school was very difficult for me financially as my fathers business had previously gone into bankruptcy leaving me with very limited family support. I had to finance my entire first year with student loans. Although I had done quite well academically my first year, thanks to Jerome’s continued support, I made a difficult life decision to drop out after my first year due to my financial difficulties. The same day I met with the Dean to discuss my decision, I later ran into Jerome near the student lounge. He knew something was not right and asked me if I wanted to talk. We then had another one of those personal conversations where I so much appreciated his counsel and insight.
After my semester off, I returned to school with a new scholarship from Duke but still no place to live or means to support myself. Jerome very graciously offered me the opportunity to live in the upper floor of his home adjacent to East Campus. This was rent free in exchange for helping him fix up his house. Jerome allowed me to stay there through graduation.
Jerome became a great friend and mentor to me as I always turned to him to discuss life’s challenges and opportunities.
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Jerome’s generosity and friendship overwhelmed me over the years. He enabled me to continue my education at Duke. He became a life long friend and confidant.
In 1987, after law school I started a charity bike ride across the United States to raise money for disabled children. Jerome was always a huge supporter and champion of my efforts. Today the ride has raised over $5 million dollars for disabled children. Two summers ago, at the annual Arrival Banquet in Washington, DC, Jerome attended as my special guest. I had the chance to honor him in front of 600 people as my mentor and dear friend who taught me the meaning of giving to others and helping those in need. We joked that I was the very first recipient of the Jerome Culp Scholarship.
Jerome later told me privately how proud he was of me. He said, “You have done well.” When I thanked him for all he had done for me, he said “All I ever asked you for in return is that you give back to others in need.” It was a basic philosophy that what goes around comes around, and now it was my turn to help others in need.
I had the tremendous privilege, honor and blessing of being with Jerome during his transplant operation in Pittsburgh. When he asked me to be there for him, I had no idea that he was giving me the opportunity to learn another invaluable life lesson. He gave me the privilege of witnessing a form of giving beyond anything I had ever comprehended before. The gift that Angela gave to Jerome was remarkable and defies my ability to put it into words. I was privileged to be part of such an act of selfless giving, kindness and friendship. I realized afterward that Jerome had given me another gift in my life by asking me to be a part of his experience.
Last year I visited Jerome with my then seven-year-old daughter, Madison to attend a Duke women and men’s basketball game. I am so glad Madison had that time with Jerome. This year I was scheduled to be here to see the upcoming Duke Carolina game with Jerome and my six-year-old son, Layton. We were all looking forward to it and I had discussed it with Jerome the last time we talked. I will miss sitting with Jerome and seeing him leap out of his seat with fists clenched and cheering loudly as Duke makes another great play. As I watched the first of the two Duke Carolina games this season last week from my hotel room in New York, I couldn’t help but feel Jerome was up in heaven jumping out of his seat and cheering wildly as Duke won in overtime. I said to myself as they made the winning basket, “Yes, Jerome that one was for you!”
I know if there is a basketball court up in heaven, Jerome is standing on it now with the ball under his arm waiting for us to finish so he can get on with his game. So, Jerome, I’m almost finished.
Jerome you were a great scholar, mentor and friend. We celebrate your life as one with many many accomplishments. Thank you for touching all of us and giving us the joy of knowing you as a professor, a colleague, a scholar, a mentor, a dear friend, and a family member.
Jerome, we take great comfort in knowing that you are now soaring with the eagles and resting in the presence of God. Jerome, with every Duke basket and win, we will hear your cheers in heaven. We will think of your bright smile and joyous laugh. Thank you Jerome, your spirit will continue to live on in all of us.
Your friend through eternity,