St. Louis was named one of the nation’s 100 best cities for children in 2005 by the national organization, America's Promise Alliance. The Rev. Jerry Paul, then head of the Deaconess Foundation, balked at the commendation. The Rev. Paul died unexpectedly on Wednesday (May 20) at his home in O'Fallon, Ill., after a brief battle with liver cancer. He was 65.
The city’s poor statistics on lead poisoning, graduation rates and personal safety, which he deemed “the most basic of all human requirements,” caused his hesitancy. So did the city’s dead-last ranking in overall child welfare among Missouri's 115 counties.
“The hard truth is,” said Rev. Paul in a St. Louis Post-Dispatch guest column, “if St. Louis is one of America's 100 best cities for children, then God help the kids in communities below ours on the list.”
Rev. Paul, an ordained pastor in the United Church of Christ, worked much of his life to help St. Louis improve its status. A memorial service for Rev. Paul will be Tuesday (May 26), at Pilgrim Congregational Church in St. Louis.
As president and chief executive officer of Deaconess Foundation, Rev. Paul oversaw the distribution of approximately $65 million to more than 200 St. Louis area nonprofit organizations. The bulk of the funds went to agencies that focus on improving the lives of children who live in distressed neighborhoods in the St. Louis area in Missouri and Illinois.
“He absolutely believed in being a true servant-leader in this community,” said his longtime friend, Nesa Joseph, chief executive of the Visiting Nurse Association of St. Louis.
Rev. Paul began his mission while growing up in the 1950s and ’60s in Sedalia, Mo., a small, predominantly white city that nevertheless maintained a segregated school system. An activist UCC minister, Marvin Albright, was working to change things.
“Jerry talked about how it was quite a segregated society and how his pastor influenced him greatly in doing good,” Joseph said.
After graduating from Eden Theological Seminary in 1974, Rev. Paul served UCC churches in Wisconsin.
In 1982, he returned to the St. Louis area to work as a hospital executive at Deaconess Health System. Following a national trend, in 1995, Deaconess merged with Incarnate Word Hospital to form Deaconess Incarnate Word Health System. Rev. Paul became president and chief executive of the new entity.
In 1997, he oversaw the redeployment of Deaconess Incarnate Word Health System assets to a charitable foundation. Funds from the sale of the hospital to Tenet Healthcare were used to establish Deaconess Foundation. Rev. Paul became president and chief executive officer of the foundation from which he retired in 2012.
Under his leadership, the foundation created multi-year funding to help organizations become more stable and provide more and more diverse services. It was called the Impact Partnership Grant Program and it became a model for charitable foundations across the nation.
In 2009, the rather modest Rev. Paul bragged a bit about a Deaconess Foundation grant: A $500,000 gift used to purchase computers and printers for nurses in every St. Louis Public School district.
He said the grant helped put the “often maligned (school district) on the cutting edge of health data management.”
Rev. Paul‘s largesse was also personal. Numerous leaders of other nonprofit organizations, scores of residents in administrative health training and student at all levels sought and received his counsel.
One recipient was Shawn Williams when Williams attended Vashon High School and, later, Missouri State University. The two remained friends and no one was more proud than Rev. Paul when Williams, now a teacher at Laclede Elementary School, received this year’s St. Louis Public Schools Pettus Award of Excellence.
“He was impulsively generous in a way that was authentic,” said Jane Donahue, a former colleague at Deaconess Foundation.
When a counselor at Beaumont High School wanted to take about 20 students to President Barack Obama’s first inauguration, Rev. Paul “made that happen,” Donahue said.
He helped students because, he said, others helped him and he became the first in his family to attend college.
Never lost his looks
Jerry Wayne Paul was born in Sedalia, the home of the Missouri State Fair and the Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival, on Dec. 28, 1949. He was the younger of Carl and Mary Paul’s two children. His mother was a licensed practical nurse, his father a custodian.
The humble beginnings inspired his sensitivity to people in need said his wife, Nancy Kalk Paul, a geriatric social worker he met when the two attended Elmhurst College.
He graduated with a degree in philosophy from Elmhurst in 1971, and earned a master of fivinity from Eden Theological Seminary in 1974 (in 2007, he helped ensure the seminary’s survival through an $18 million grant). In 1983, Rev. Paul earned a master of health administration from the School of Medicine at Washington University, where he served as an adjunct professor.
Rev. Paul was a popular inspirational speaker and he received numerous accolades, including an honorary doctorate from Eden.
He cheerfully served on the boards of more than 30 organizations and commissions, including several years as chair of the St. Louis City Board of Public Health. He often opened meetings with his legendary self-deprecating humor.
Friends and family were not spared his jokes. A favorite was his declaration that he had not yet lost his good looks. Joseph recalled him laughing heartily when one of Joseph’s daughters responded, “How could you lose something you never had?”
Rev. Paul took his good looks, good humor and great skills abroad to India and West Africa. He and his wife welcomed students from all over the world into their home.
He was preceded in death by his parents and his oldest son, Joshua C. Paul, who died suddenly less than a week ago from heart failure. His services will be Saturday, three day before his father’s.
In addition to his wife of almost 45 years, Rev. Paul’s survivors include a daughter, Alison (David) DeShryver of Washington, D.C., and a son, Jacob (Erika) Paul of Hoboken, N.J. He is also survived by his sister, Dorothy Pruitt (Steve) of Warsaw, Mo., and five grandchildren, Audrey and August DeShryver, Jackson Paul and Alex and Ana Carolina Paul.
A memorial service for Rev. Paul will be at 4:30 p.m., Tuesday, May 26, at Pilgrim Congregational Church, 826 Union Boulevard, in St. Louis. His body will be cremated.
Memorials in lieu of flowers would be appreciated to the Christian Activity Center, 540 North 6th Street, East St. Louis, Ill. 62201.