Jerry Regina
Legacy Foundation

"The greatest portion of a person's life is the small, unselfish acts of kindness that they do."
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IN YOUR TOWN
From The Current of Northfield, Linwood and Somers Point
May 27, 2009



LEGACIES / MAN'S FAMILY REMEMBERS KIND ACTS, FEW WORDS  

DAVID BENSON Staff Writer, (609) 272-7206

It wasn't always easy for Jerry Regina to tell people what he thought of them.

"Oh, he was opinionated," said his brother, John. "Be on time, do the job, and always do what you say you're going to do." But when it came down to telling people how he felt - that he cared - Jerry often stumbled with the language. He could tell his family that he loved them, but when it came to strangers, Jerry would find himself searching for just the right sentiment.

That's why the last five words Jerry wrote for his own obituary were: "Can you hear me now?"

"Let me tell you a story about your brother." It was six years ago, and John Regina had just settled back into a dentist's chair. The hygienist hovered above him with teeth-cleaning tools, and she wanted John to know what Jerry had done.

"It was the middle of winter," she said, "and this young family had just moved into Somers Point."

New to the area, the family had little money and no deposit to give to the oil company.

"I called Jerry at 1 p.m. on a Sunday," the hygienist said, "and asked him if he could get these people some firewood to tide them over until they could get heat."

At 4 p.m. that same day, Jerry pulled into the family's yard with a pickup truck load of split wood - unloaded it, stacked it. No charge.

"He always treated people the way he wanted to be treated," said, Angel, Jerry's daughter. "He didn't mind telling you what he thought, but he always managed to do it in a nice way."

You see, every day was Christmas as far as Jerry was concerned. And that didn't mean he was looking for presents. Rather, Jerry was one to be giving them out, and it didn't matter whether you were naughty or nice.

"Twenty years ago," Angel said, "my dad met a family that had no money and was living in a hotel." It was the holiday season, and Jerry wouldn't stand for seeing the family go through those days with nothing. He gathered a tree, toys, clothes and a turkey dinner - all with money from his own pocket - and visited the family at the hotel on Christmas Eve.

"He wanted it to be perfect," Angel said.

That's because Jerry knew what it was like to be poor.

"I remember," said John, "when we were young that our family had very little money. We'd hide in the closet with our mother when the bill collector came so he wouldn't know we were home."

Jerry never forgot those days. When he got his first job as a teenager, he contributed the money he earned over summer vacation to the family budget. "He bought us shoes," said Jerry's younger brother, Nick. "It was his money, but he wanted to make sure we had shoes for the winter."

Jerry, who lived in Somers Point for most of his life, spent 30 years working for the telephone company, before retiring three years ago to Clanton, Ala. The job with the phone company gave him a lot of opportunities to meet people, and Jerry made sure that his two children, Tony and Angel, went with him on some of his trips.

"I remember," Angel said, "he would make us go with him when he went on a call into the poorer areas of Atlantic City." Angel took a slow breath. "He said it was so we could see what people didn't have."

But as Jerry walked down those cold, lonely streets with his two children, he did it with an armload of scarves, gloves and coats. "He didn't give the people money," Angel said. "He gave them things that counted."

"My father had a habit," Tony said, "of finding a person no one else liked and making friends with him. No matter how bad the person was, he could find something good about them, and show it to the rest of the people."

Jerry knew he was dying. He had been diagnosed with an aggressive cancer about nine months ago. While 36 radiation treatments initially beat it back, the cancer returned not long ago.

"We went to visit him in Alabama about a month ago," John said. "He was in bed with oxygen, and he knew he wasn't getting better." And yet it wasn't dying that bothered Jerry during John's visit.

As John was leaving the house with his family, Jerry beeped him on his telephone.

"I don't want your family's last memory of me to be of me in this bed hooked up to oxygen," Jerry said. "You wait."

Jerry unhooked himself from the tank, struggled into his clothes and robe, then made his way downstairs. Pulling himself tall, Jerry swung open the front door, and stood there waving as John and his family got into the car to leave.

Near the end of his obituary, Jerry wrote: "In lieu of flowers, Jerry requests that you would perform a kind deed for someone that you love."

Jerry believed that good deeds multiplied. Doing something nice for one person meant two good deeds for the next, then four, then eight - a geometric progression.

Tomorrow at 11 a.m. at Kennedy Park in Somers Point, friends and family will gather to remember Jerry, who died of cancer Oct. 8 at the age of 57.

They'll tell his stories, remember his wishes, then head out into the community to make sure that Jerry's voice is heard. He never did find the words to tell the rest of us how he felt.

But can you hear him now?

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