By Janel McFeat
Washington Statewide Reentry Council Executive Director
When I arrived at Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribal Chairman Jeromy Sullivan’s Celebration of Life on July 22, the area was bustling with tribal members, tribal leaders, state and county officials, service providers, and the greater Kitsap community, including many of the younger community members Jeromy was so passionate about helping. The gym was so packed that some attendees were directed to the Longhouse to watch the funeral’s live stream. The amount of people there is a testament to the kind of leader Jeromy was for so many.
When the shuttle dropped me off on the reservation at the north end of the Kitsap Peninsula, I was hit with an immediate feeling of loss for this community, which was guided by a gentle and just leader for more than 10 years. When the drums started and his family was led to their seats, tears filled everyone’s eyes. I thought my sunglasses would protect me, but my emotions overcame me.
Jeromy and I both attended North Kitsap High School, but he was older than me, in my brother’s grade. We were not formally introduced until I started working for the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe in 2011.
My brother was devastated when he heard the news. He said, “He was an amazing human. I appreciated when I spoke with him, he listened with intention and made you feel like you were the most important person in the room.”
I remember the first time I had that experience with Jeromy. I was driving up for my first day on the job, and he was rushing out to his car. I rolled my window down to say hello. Jeromy immediately stopped to welcome me with a smile. He asked how my brother was doing and how I was doing, and made sure I left feeling like I was part of the community.
The last time I saw Jeromy, I was talking with him in his office, and we were chatting about work and life. It did not matter that he had a huge role as the Chairman for the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe — he was a genuinely good person who cared for people and took the time to chat. When I left, he stood up and gave me a hug and smiled; that’s how he ended most of his meetings, even the contentious ones. He always sought to end on a positive note.
Jeromy Sullivan, thank you for being the type of leader that many leaders aspire to be. You led with vulnerability and love, when others often lead with power and selfishness. Thank you for saying “Yes” to our human dignity reentry model, which many people said “No” to at the time. You saw the vision, and you gave me a chance. I will miss you, and your community and family will miss you. But I know without a doubt you have made a mark on the world for the better.