Mourning Jay (and Gene)

This afternoon my beloved friend Jay Worrall died. Jay was a shining, Light-filled elder of our Quaker meeting here in Charlottesville who in an earlier era played a pioneering role in the racial desegregation movement here in town and founded the important, statewide prisoner-aid organization Offender Aid and Restoration.
I am still crying. I happened to be the only non-family member who was present in the hospital room as he passed away. Shortly before he passed, the 15 or so family people in the room, the respiratory therapist, and I all stood in silent worship together with Jay, as he lay on his bed. I had a profound sense of the Divine Spirit/Light bursting out in great pulses from Jay.
When I joined the Charlottesville Friends Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), back in 1997, the meeting (congregation) had several really amazing, inspiring older members. Among them, Chic Moran, who had been a conscientious objector during World War II and had done some really important reconstruction work in Europe right after the war… Elaine Bell, who had worked with her husband Colin for many years for various Quaker service organizations in different places around the world… and Jay Worrall and his luminous wife Carolyn. They all meant so much to me. Chic died three or four years ago. Elaine died about 18 months ago. Now Jay, too, has passed. (Carolyn was at his bedside today, but she is in not in good shape.)
Jay Worrall was, I think, 96 years old. He had served in the U.S. military for many years in the 1940s and 1950s, including doing something in Ethiopia/Eritrea that always meant a lot to him afterwards. Then, fresh out of the military, he and Carolyn brought their five children to Charlottesville, where he got a job heading a pioneering organization called the Monticello Area Community Action Agency (MACAA) that worked to extend social-support services to all in the area, regardless of race… That, at a time of continued racial segregation in Virginia and much of the rest of the American south.
In 1956, Harry F. Byrd, Sr., a member of the U.S. Senate from Virginia, announced a policy of “massive resistance” to the federal court’s 1954 order that all the country’s school systems should end racial segregation. His followers in the Virginia General Assembly then enacted a series of laws forbidding any race-integrated schools from receiving state funds, establishing a board to determine which school each pupil should attend (based on her or his race, when this was in question), and offering tuition grants to pupils attending white-only schools.
The federal government ordered a number of school systems in the state, including the one here in Charlottesville, to desegregate their classrooms. Rather than do that, the state Governor ordered the closing of several key schools, including the high school and the premier elementary school here in Charlottesville.
There are still many older African-Americans here in town whose educations were grossly disrupted by the tensions of those years.
This was the racial cauldron in which Jay Worrall and his longtime African-American friend and collaborator Drewary Brown chose to work, building MACAA up into a powerful force for good in the community.
Jay carried on working on racial equality and racial healing issues throughout his life. He also did a lot of work on criminal justice reform and was a stalwart participant in all antiwar efforts. In the early 2000s, when I was participating in the weekly antiwar vigils here in town, he would quite frequently come by– though his legs were a little shaky and he found it hard to walk. And he’d stand with us for most of the hour, to give his public witness.
He was always keenly interested in the Middle East. As recently as last Sunday he was an active member of a group in the Quaker meeting who were discussing what campaigns can be mounted to address the current crisis in Jerusalem.
Oh, and did I mention that along the way there, Jay Worrall researched and wrote a compendious, beautifully written 630-page history of the Quakers in Virginia, an area where there has been a Quaker presence since almost the dawn of Quakerism in the mid-17th century.
So, Friend Jay Worrall has passed from our midst. Last night he had a fall, and he never recovered. I shall miss him so. My warmest sympathies go to Carolyn, their five children, and their many grandchildren.
… Last night, I was planning to write something to mark the recent passing of another man, someone whom I never knew in person, but who was another amazing force for good in our country. Gene Stoltzfuz was a member of another of the historic “peace churches”, the Mennonite church. He was the founding director of the Christian Peacemaker Teams from 1988 until 2004.
After Gene retired he started writing a blog called Peace Probe. His last post there is this quiet but profound reflection on torture and violence.

6 thoughts on “Mourning Jay (and Gene)

  1. Johan

    Helen, I can’t say how grateful I am that you gave us the gift of this wonderful tribute to Jay. Condolences and warm greetings to Charlottesville Friends from two of us who passed through in the early ’80’s, and left the richer for our exposure to that fertile group you mentioned in your posting. And thank you also for mentioning Gene.

  2. bdelhafid Dib

    jay passed away but left for us a great courage as a spot light for our militancy.
    GOD BLESS HIM
    Hafid

  3. hmmm

    My condolences for Jay’s loss.
    Now for Chic Moran, who had been a conscientious objector during World War II I cannot think who would object to that stance we took other than a Nazi proper. I am grateful for the US role in stopping global Nazism.

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