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Jul 20, 2010 6:59 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Jerome Jefferson of East Hampton succumbs to lung cancer at 50

Jul 20, 2010 6:59 PM

Jerome P. Jefferson always had a smile on his face, made everyone laugh and was blessed with an even temperament that made everyone relax around him. He even taught his boss, Billy Hurley at Peconic Beverage of East Hampton, to work smarter, not harder.

“I learned a lot from him about not stressing out on the job. He taught me that being stressed doesn’t make anything easier,” Mr. Hurley said Tuesday.

Mr. Jefferson, 50, died of lung cancer on Monday morning at his home in East Hampton—the day he was to be married to his partner of 23 years, Sonja Russell. He was the father of seven children, four girls and three boys, ranging in age from 19 to 32. Six of those children were born to Ms. Russell and one was from a previous relationship.

Mr. Jefferson was born January 24, 1960, in Melbourne, Florida, to Thelma Ross. His father was unknown, and he was raised in East Hampton by his aunt, Cleo.

At six feet, six inches tall, he was a member of the East Hampton High School basketball team that won the New York State title after the 1976-77 season, the year he was a junior, said his classmate and friend of 42 years, Scott Rubenstein. He started at center as a senior the following year.

“He was one of the nicest kindest, most gentle people you want to meet. No one could remember him raising his voice to anyone or raising a hand. And then there was his trademark smile and laugh,” Mr. Rubenstein said.

“He was so content and happy with life and who he was,” he added. “You never heard him complain. He also worked hard, and he didn’t have it easy, but didn’t care what you had or what he had. The most important thing was that he loved his family and children.”

Ms. Russell said Monday that her partner was “a caring, loving, trusting person who loved being with his kids, playing any kind of sports with them. He was always there for his kids. He never yelled or got angry and he was always smiling.”

Mr. Jefferson was diagnosed with cancer in November, and at first he was in a lot pain, she said. “But there wasn’t any pain toward the end. Right before he died, he told me that he loved me and that he was ready to go,” she said. “The best memory I have was all of us being together as a family.”

A benefit for Mr. Jefferson was held on July 12 at the Stephen Talkhouse. More than 300 people attended.

“It was beautiful,” Ms. Russell said. “A lot of his friends were there. Everyone was surprised that there were so many people that he knew. Lots of his classmates were there, and I thank them so much.”

Lorna McMullan-Cook, a friend of Mr. Jefferson who helped run the fund-raiser, said proceeds had climbed above the $23,000 mark.

“We were absolutely astonished by over 300 people showing up,” she said. “But Jerome was one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met. And he had the most beautiful children, the kindest children. He was a gentleman who always had a big smile on his face and they are a family who had nothing. They really struggled.”

“I also just want to thank Peter Honerkamp [managing director of the club] for his generosity,” she said. “He gave us the entire proceeds of the door, at $4,500-$5,000, gave us part of the money earned from drinks and donated a $1,000 check,” she said.

Mr. Hurley, who kept Mr. Jefferson on his payroll during his final illness, said Mr. Jefferson deserved the help he got. “But he didn’t like it. He was a proud man who felt he should work to earn his money.”

Mr. Jefferson, who was in charge of retail and wholesale deliveries for Peconic Beverage, brought his easy-going manner and the gift of laughter to work, and made the atmosphere light. “No matter how stressed out he was, he managed to keep his attitude going,” he said.

In addition to Sonja Russell, Mr. Jefferson is survived by his four daughters, Jolie Jefferson, Jenny Jefferson, Jentora Jefferson, Katora Russell; and three sons, Joel Sumpter, Jenel Russell and Jerome Russell, eight grandchildren, his mother, Ms. Ross, and five sisters and four brothers, all of Florida.

The family will receive visitors on Friday, July 23, from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m., at Yardley & Pino Funeral Home in East Hampton. A funeral service will be held on Saturday at 1 p.m. at Calvary Baptist Church in East Hampton.

At Mr. Jefferson’s request he will be cremated and his ashes interred at his aunt’s grave.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to East End Hospice, P.O. Box 1048, Westhampton Beach, NY 11978 or Dominican Sisters Family Health Service, P.O. Box 1028, Hampton Bays, N.Y. 11946-0404.

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Rest in Peace dear friend, I will miss your smile and that contagious laugh!
By gypsy222 (20), East Hampton on Jul 21, 10 1:34 PM
I would just like to thank the EH Press for publishing this thoughtful & lovingly written piece. It is so refreshing to see that a medium such as yours finds the everyday people just as important to their community, as the more well known. From the bottom of my heart...thanks. Hope to see this more in the future. Jerome touched many people just by being Jerome. He was a special kind of person & will be missed by many.
By trublnocknatmydr (35), East Hampton on Jul 22, 10 10:46 PM
I went to school with Jerome and will always remember how he made everyone laugh. I was so sorry to hear of his death.
By Babyboo (293), Hampton Bays on Aug 2, 10 2:34 PM