The American Red Cross prevents and alleviates human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors.
Jerry Sharp, a volunteer since March 2016, is the American Red Cross of the Mid-South Volunteer of the Month. Jerry supports operations specialist Maggie Atkinson, from whom he has been learning about the everyday operations of the Mid-South Red Cross so that he can provide backup for her whenever needed. Jerry also works with the Red Cross National Real Estate Services, assisting with the record keeping for work order management, and he’s assisted with Services to Armed Forces, including a Christmas visit to the VA hospital to deliver cards. “I enjoy it [the Red Cross] very much,” Jerry says.
Originally from Chicago, Jerry and his wife Mary, a longtime Red Cross Board Member, moved to Memphis thirty-seven years ago. They have two children, a daughter, who is a librarian in Columbus, Mississippi, and a son, who is an architect in Washington DC. He and Mary have four grandchildren. “We were laughing the other day because one grandson just posted a picture of his newly-earned driver’s permit on Facebook and another grandson is just learning to walk—a big age spread.” Jerry smiles and states, “Grandchildren are wonderful.”
Taciturn and contemplative, people sometimes miss the sparkle in Jerry’s eyes and are surprised to learn that he is playful, “a kind of a goofball,” he says. “My 2 1/2 year old granddaughter and I FaceTime every week or so. About one month ago, she was sitting on her father’s lap and talking to me and her grandmother. I found a framed picture of her father and held it up covering my face. I then started talking like her father, so that she saw him on both ends of the phone. She thought it was hilarious.”
Professionally, Jerry spent four years in the Air Force as a communications specialist. After his military service, IBM hired him and he began working in accounting for maintenance parts in Aurora Illinois. IBM eventually brought him to Memphis where he worked for 25 years as a Facilities Supervisor Operations Manager. He retired from IBM and had a second career with International Paper as a Building Operations Supervisor. After his second retirement, he brought all of that experience to the Red Cross.
Always active and with an ethic to serve that was grounded in a childhood where “volunteering was expected,” he began looking around for something meaningful to do in retirement. “Mary always talked about the mission of the Red Cross, how they assisted in disaster recovery and helped clients, or really anyone who has experienced tragedy,” he says. Jerry now spends three days a week, six hours a day working for that mission. “It gives you a nice warm feeling. You hear on the news, someone has had a fire and then they say the Red Cross has helped them find a place to stay or has given some assistance. It means a lot that there is somebody out there who can help.”
Jerry is pleased to pass on the best advice he ever received: “In business accept any job that is given to you or that you are asked to do. ‘Jerry will do anything we ask him to do and get it done’ is one of the things that stood out on my work evaluations,” he says. “Also, don’t burn bridges with management or be negative about superiors.” He maintains that ethic in his volunteerism, where if he is asked to do something, he will do his best to do it.
Jerry also volunteers at the Memphis Library where he works in the “Second Edition” bookstore, an in-house resale shop that benefits the library. Quite a reader, Jerry particularly likes World War II history. “We visited a concentration camp in Austria on our Danube trip. One thing that stood in my mind about the camp was that there was a wall between the prisoners’ barracks, where prisoners slept directly on hard wooden beds, and a Nazi officers’ house with a swimming pool. The contrast was stark,” he shared. For people interested in World War II, he recommends The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel, a book about a special-forces group who risked their lives to prevent the destruction of thousands of years of culture by the Nazis.
Measured and soft spoken, Jerry brings his substantial professional gifts and experience to our Mid-South Red Cross along with some personal know-how from his hobbies. He was an usher at the Orpheum, for example, because he likes music and theatre and he wanted to see the shows, but he also had a keen curiosity to know how shows were put together—the sound, the lighting, and the mechanics. He and Mary enjoy cruising on their pontoon boat to relax, and he loves to travel. The next trip he and Mary will take is a cruise to Alaska in August. One of his “best” trips so far was a cruise from New York City, stopping in Rhode Island, Boston, and Maine and ending up in Montreal, Canada. His dream vacation would be a trip to South Africa.
Jerry values his family, his hobbies, and the time he spends contributing to the Red Cross. He is decisive about why our chapter is so successful, “The way they portray themselves in the community, the way they recruit volunteers, the empathy I’ve seen expressed when clients come in. When they interview volunteers, they are very enthusiastic about what the volunteer can do, and what their needs are, and they are very appreciative. It’s always a lot of “thank you.” Laura Vaughn will make sure that she talks to everybody and thank them for their volunteer service. When she goes out into the community, she does the same thing. She is very appreciative of our partners and donors: for example, she gave out cards at our last meeting for everyone to write a thank you note to the Assisi Foundation, which has provided major funding for the Mid-South Red Cross. She will take the cards to the foundation to let them know that we appreciate their support. Personal relationship is what the Red Cross does best,” he asserts.
A truly fine man, Jerry has certainly earned his honor and our gratitude. He concludes, “I think I’ve talked a lot.”
Story and photo credit: Kathleen Bradley for the American Red Cross