A True Leader
Make new friends and keep the old, one is silver and the other is gold.
This classic phrase defines much of my childhood as a proud Girl Scout. It is not the words themselves, though, that draw my memory back to my elementary days, but rather the woman that taught them to me.
Jill Albert was radiant. She had an unmatched presence that could be felt by anyone touched by her warm embrace. She had a way of making all of the girls in my troop feel welcome, appreciated and unique. But her brilliance extended far beyond our small group of girl scouts: she baked cookies for her garbage men and always had a bowl full of Double Bubble in her car to give anyone who may have been having a bad day. Jill encapsulated the ultimate role model.
Unfortunately, Jill also suffered from breast cancer. Diagnosed in 2003, Jill underwent intense chemotherapy treatments that not only put a strain on her, but also on her immediate family – her husband Jon, her son Jake and her daughter Jamie – and the entirety of her extended family, and the Atlanta community who was fortunate enough to know her. Jill’s battle with cancer matched hundreds of others: she would undergo periods of severe illness, and then suddenly, with a great spur of hope, be in remission. The cycle was ongoing. But Jill fought, and fought fiercely.
Though her curly, black hairline inevitably began to recede, Jill’s brilliant smile never withered. She continued to venture out into the “woods” – a campsite not further than ten minutes from the nearest shopping mall – with us, and her positivity led us as we encountered the third-grade conflicts we came across. These conflicts, ones I vaguely remember as a sixteen-year-old, were so insignificant in light of what Jill was enduring at the time, but she never delegitimized them. Rather, she enveloped herself in our thoughts and feelings, making our struggles seem as real as we thought they were, and guiding us towards a solution—one that we thought we had figured out ourselves.
For reasons I can’t remember, our Girl Scout troop eventually disaffiliated from the national organization when Jill’s battle was nearing an end, but we remained an active group of girls who was passionate about community service and absolutely adored their leader, the strongest person they knew.
More Information on the Jack and Jill Late Stage Cancer Foundation:
Jill was my source of comfort. Being the awkward chubby girl at recess who was still learning English had never been fun, but with Jill, I felt empowered. I made some of my best friends through Girl Scouts, and learned leadership skills that I still refer to today.
Towards the end of her battle, Jill and Jon created the Jack & Jill Late Stage Cancer Foundation, an organization that provides families suffering from late-stage cancer with memories of a lifetime. As of today, the foundation has touched the lives of over 350 families.
May Jill’s memory forever be a blessing.