“Uncle Jay was larger than Life” as a nephew said upon learning of his passing.
This man was perhaps not “larger than Life” by the measurement of Life’s outer trappings such as wealth, education, career, etc. But he WAS “larger than Life” by the measurement of deeper and more eternal traits such as kindness, compassion, self-sacrifice, caring, devotion, and – above all – Love.
Jay was “one of a kind”. Even those who met him briefly recognized his goodness and sweet soul, always putting self aside to care about and for others. He gave generously to the less fortunate, even when he really didn’t have enough to give. Lucky were you to have known him, even luckier to have been loved by him.
His dry wit and great sense of humor gave him just the right touch of silly – what a gift to make us laugh in the face of his saintly being. He was human after all.
Most reading this will know the highlights of his biography:
Born in Aurora, Illinois into the difficult circumstances of the Depression years to Donald Winn Barncord and Alice Vivian Stookey Barncord, the middle of five siblings, his mother was disabled early and unable to care for her family. His struggling father placed the five children in an orphanage. Little Gerald assumed the role of family protector and advocate. At some point, he purposely instigated mischief and was responsible for the five siblings being returned to his father and stepmother’s (Vera’s) home.
At 17, Gerald ran away and joined the Navy (how did he pull that off?!). He travelled the world on the USS Wasp aircraft carrier from November 1952 to March 1956. There are many stories, ask and we may tell. His dearest and best sailor friend, Nick, called him “Jay-bird” and thus the moniker “Jay” was born.
Jay was discharged from the Navy on March 16, 1956. Famously, he tossed a coin (NY? / or SF?) and then hitched his way to San Francisco, arriving just in time for the St Patrick’s Day parade. Within the first few days in SF, he met his first wife, Mona. They went on to marry and have five adored children – Debra, Robin, Steven, and twins Jay and Bradley.
Tragically, Mona passed away unexpectedly in 1978. Daughter Robin passed in 1997. Jay’s soul was permanently wounded by these passings.
In 1981, he was able to start a new life chapter when he met Sharon Swatosh, an international flight attendant living in San Francisco. They married at Old St Hilary’s in Tiburon on Nov 6,1983 and lived 40 adventurous years of marriage. Their love was deep, devoted, special, and eternal. Jay’s daughter has said Sharon “was the love of his life” and a granddaughter wrote: “You two are an example of true love.” They were blissfully grateful and happy to be living in their Sonoma home since 2006.
Along the way, Jay became “Papa” to eight grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren, and one great-great-grandchild. He also cherished his remaining family in California and Illinois including sister Esther, sister-in-law Gloria, and numerous nephews and nieces.
During his career as bartender extraordinaire in old-time upscale San Francisco Restaurants (including 30 years at Doros) until he became disabled in 1987, Jay appeared numerous times in The San Francisco Chronicle. He was given bartender honors by the paper and appeared in Herb Caen’s famous column. He could tell you many stories of tending bar for Frank, Dean, Sammy, and many other stars of the era. Family albums have photos of Johnny Mathis raising baby Debra up in the air. Jay also made the news for delivering his eldest son, Steve, on a freeway off-ramp, Christmas Day 1961.
Jay was a gifted artist and painted until mid-life. He gave away or sold all of his earlier works, keeping just one impressionistic self-portrait. He sketched continuously on magazines, scraps of paper, whatever he could find. He loved color and was a brilliant interior decorator, creating warm and full-of-color homes. He was also a talented cook!
His was a colorful, passionate, and compassionate life. He made a difference for Good.
Sharon and family will remember him in our hearts and miss him terribly forever. We will strive to memorialize and honor him by spreading caring and kindness in this world that so needs it.
A family Celebration of Life will be held later this summer.
If you wish to make a donation, these are Jay’s favorite charities:
St Joseph’s Indian School (www.stjo.org)
St Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital (stjude.org/joinus)
Paralyzed Veterans of America (pva.org)
Wounded Warrior Project (woundedwarrior project.org)
Habitat for Humanity (habitat.org)
The Salvation Army (donation.givedeloro.org)
* Even better, in Jay’s memory:
Offer an act of kindness to someone, either known or unknown to you
To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of Gerald G. "Jay" Barncord, please visit our floral store.