On Thursday, I learned that Jay Jankelewicz, our young, dynamic, and effervescent office manager of the Philosophy Department at Brooklyn College, had passed away from complications following from COVID-19. Our department is united in grief; we are shocked and appalled beyond measure at the cruel hand fate has dealt to Jay, his parents, and all those he touched during his life.
In the many tributes and testimonials that poured into the department and college following the announcement of Jay’s passing away, there was a unifying theme: Jay’s affectionate and caring personality, his helpfulness, his sincere interest in, and passion for, the college community, which included faculty, students, and staff. No one who came into contact with Jay came away untouched; nor did I. Reading these testimonials, which have brought me to tears as I read them has brought that home to me all over again.
Jay, without exaggeration, made our office a home away from home; it bore his stamp in every fashion. The chair of the department could not do his job without him; we, ours. In the bad old days, before Jay took over the office, there was little administrative assistance available to faculty members; more often than not, we just did the administrative and logistical work of academic work ourselves. All of that changed once Jay–a graduate of Brooklyn College himself–took over; he expertly supervised a skeleton staff of students, assisted the chair in his many functions, and reorganized and revitalized the department’s administrative profile and function from beginning to end, from top to bottom: student assistance in all shape and form, advising materials, interactions with facilities management, content on the department web page, college forms, interactions with other college units including facilities maintenance, departmental events like social hours, movie nights, holiday parties, birthday cakes for his co-workers, the list goes on and on. (Those students who worked with Jay in the office found him a generous and supportive supervisor, one keenly attuned to their challenges navigating their way through college.) On more than one occasion, I commented to my wife on how well our office functioned; no request for assistance went unheeded; every task I assigned was fulfilled promptly and courteously. In the best possible sense, Jay made it possible for me to concentrate on matters that really needed my attention. I could not have asked for a better co-worker.
Underwriting his prolific work, his seemingly unbounded work ethic, was his spirit, his humor, his sheer good will and warmth. I took my daughter to work on several occasions; without fail, Jay would greet her, treat her to samples of candy from the office’s collection–maintained and stocked by Jay, of course–engage with her with curiosity, all the while beaming with pleasure at the opportunity to connect with his fellow workers in a personal dimension. He was warm and generous with time and assistance for faculty, students, and staff; he infused our workplace with a warmth all his own. (His brand of humor had something to do with it; all of us traded corny lines with him on every entry to the office; almost all of us, I’m sure, had running gags going with him. In my case, it was his ‘thanking me’ every time I warmed up my lunch in the office! His presentations at the faculty department meetings were a hoot; we would be awed by, and grateful for, his work ethic and organization, even as we groaned at his jokes.) The department’s holiday party was really where it all came together; the way Jay beamed on those days, you could tell he thought this place was his own, in the best possible way, and he loved every second of it.
RIP Jay: you were one of the best, a rare gem, and you’ll be missed by all of us. Thanks for everything you did. We love you very much.