When Jessie’s garage door was at half-mast, her friends knew on that day she would welcome us to tea and a serious conversation. That was the Jessie Drey most people knew, fond of tradition, modest and practical in demeanor, and passionate about education. Unknown to me during my early affiliation with the English-Speaking Union’s Central Florida Branch, Jessie would offer me one of the most rewarding experiences anyone could imagine.
The story of our friendship began in the late 1970’s when I received a call at my Orange County Public School office in Orlando where I had recently taken over as Administrator of the Language Arts, Humanities, and Drama Programs. I was politely asked to spread the word that a scholarship to a British university was available, thanks to an ESU national program and a modest donation by one of the branch’s members. After alerting our teachers to this remarkable opportunity, I was left with a question: What is this organization, and what else does it do? Before long, I joined as an active ESU member and the journey began.
Since many of the branch members were educators from all levels, a strong kinship was easy to find. Others came from various professional and business fields, but all were interested in educational programs embracing a wide variety of topics. Jessie, frequently at the center of planning programs and events, embodied a leadership style that intrigued me. At the occasional dinners she gave for a small group of us, I gained an appreciation of her wry British humor as well as her sharp mind. No brick and mortar for Jessie; she believed educational experiences that expand one’s knowledge and talents would provide the path to a better future. With the closeness of our interests, our friendship endured.
Jessie, well into her 90’s, died in 1995. As a part of her legacy, she left to the ESU Central Florida Branch an endowment for the education of students, teachers, and branch members in the Central Florida area. That endowment has reached over four million today. After serving a term as president of our branch, I went on for the next twenty-one years as the Vice President for the Drey Endowment. Thousands have benefitted, and will benefit in years to come, from Jessie Drey’s generosity. Administering the many programs and projects of her endowment gave me the satisfaction of seeing Jessie’s dreams become a reality. That is why I say that knowing Jessie gave me the most rewarding experience anyone could imagine.