Tribute to a Special Friend Whom the Coronavirus Is Taking

by on December 22, 2020 · 13 comments

in Health, Ocean Beach

Jaimee Dawson, Native of Spring Valley

By Judi Curry

In 1992 I went to work as the Vocations Manager for the San Diego Job Corps.  For those of you that do not know about the history of Job Corps, it is a Federally funded program for males and females 16-24 that have not finished High School, and want to learn a Vocation.

It is an old program – both my husband and former husband worked at the Pleasanton Job Corps in 1964-5.

In addition to being an education program, the students enrolling in the program live, for the most part, on Center.  They are fed three meals a day; their clothes are provided for them, and they attend classes all day long.

We had approximately 650 students living on Center, and if I remember correctly, we offered at least 12 vocational classes for them – solar, plumbing, painting, plastering, carpentry, culinary arts, auto mechanics, office skills, landscaping, security, computer repair, CNA, etc.

And we also gave them the opportunity to complete their high school diploma’s and/or obtain a GED. All classes were taught on Center. It was, and still is, a very viable program and our success rate was enormous.

And what made it so successful?

In addition to the above, we had a work experience program where the students actually went out into the working world and tried the skills that they were learning in their classes.  Enter – Jaimee Dawson.  Jaimee was the “Work Experience” Counselor.  Her job was to go out and seek work experiences for our students.  This was not an easy task, but one that she enjoyed and was extremely successful doing.

Not all of the vocations needed Jaimee help because several of the trades were union trades and they had their own apprentice programs, but Jaimee was probably responsible for placing 300-400 students a year.

We did not work on a “semester basis” – it was an “open entry, open exit” program  and we had new students coming in every Monday as well as old students leaving on Friday.  Jaimee, as a former Special Education teacher, knew just how to react to the public as well as our students, who, granted, were not always the easiest to deal with.  So, that is some of Jaimee’s background.

In 1999 I was offered the position as “Deputy Director” of the Penobscot Job Corps in Bangor, Maine.  As a native “Angelian” (born and raised in L.A.) I jumped at the chance to live on the East Coast.  (My husband was also born in L.A.) I was 27 before I actually saw snow come out of the sky, and after seeing the pictures of the changing seasons all my, life decided to take the position.

Jaimee asked me what we were going to do with “Ole Pal”, our Golden Retriever at the time.  I told her that I was going to book a place in the hold of the airplane for him, and he’d fly to Boston and then Maine with us.  “Oh no you won’t,” she replied.  I looked at her a little perplexed until she told me she had always wanted to go to Maine so she would drive him if she could drive one of my cars!  She was offering to drive a dog 3000 miles so he wouldn’t have to be in the hold of the plane? After only a little discussion we all agreed that it would be a wonderful thing for both of them.

Remember when I said that Jaimee was a former special education teacher? I think that she treated “Pal” like one of her former students because when they got to Maine he was drinking out of an Arrowhead Water bottle that she was feeding him over her shoulder. And perhaps the funniest thing was that she liked to sing. So she taught him how to “sing” with the music on the radio. And … if he didn’t like the song he would howl; otherwise he made nice sounds!  When she flew back to San Diego I think that “Pal” missed her as much as we did.

She did visit us once more while we were there; she became so excited when she caught a 2” fish in the Kenduskeag Stream that ran along the front of our home!

We left Maine after I was offered a Director’s job at the Treasure Island Job Corps in San Francisco. Although I loved the snow and the seasons, I was still a Californian at heart and looked forward to my return.  We were going to drive to California, taking in all the sights we had never seen before, so turned down Jaimee’s offer to drive “Pal” back to California.  And by this time she had also left Job Corps and was working as a special education teacher in Utah.

While teaching there she had a tragic accident.  One of the students that had an anger problem kicked her in the jaw, breaking it, and destroying her hearing in that ear.  The school district fought with her on compensation, saying that there was an aide in the classroom and it was negligence on her part because she knew he was violent.

She then went to work in another specialized program, similar to our “Culinary Arts” program at Job Corps.  With her charm and wit she managed to have large appliances donated to the program, and she taught these new students how to be successful in the work place. She frequently called me to ask how handle situations – like getting more money for her program – and always had the welfare of the students ahead of everything else.  And, in the meantime, she was suffering from pain in her head due to the accident.

I’ll never forget one conversation that we had after I moved back to San Diego. I told her that I had a bad “trigger finger” on my right hand and was going to have surgery to fix it.  (Such a minor thing compared to what she was going through!)  In the mail a week or so later was a bidet – from Jaimee – telling me that I probably wouldn’t have use of my hand for awhile and the bidet would take care of any problems I might have.  I joked with her and told her that every time I used the “throne” I would think of her.  And you know what?  I did and still do!!!!!  That was the kind of person Jaimee was – always thinking of the “other guy or girl” before thinking of herself.

She came to visit me a few months ago and I was so horrified at what she had to say.  Firstly, she had been diagnosed with cancer. She decided not to use the “Western” method of treating it but was going to try other methods first.  And then she told me about her seizures, that were getting worse and worse.

And this probably all stems from the kick she received so many years ago.  She said that she seldom had any warning that a seizure was coming on; she could be anywhere and it would happen. She had just come off a seizure that had her in a coma for three days.  When she awoke she had no idea that she had been comatose; had no memory of it at all.  And, she said, the seizures were coming more often.

As a native of Spring Valley, she said that she would like to spend some time here, rekindling old acquaintances; and we agreed that she would stay at my house with her two dogs – service animals at best. My dogs get along well with others so we did not anticipate a problem. And then the “stay at home” orders were issued, and we decided it would be best to wait until those orders were lifted before she came here.

Yesterday I received the saddest email I have received in years. My friend Jaimee, the wonderful lady that cared more for others than herself, had contracted Covid-19.  Her daughter wrote the following:

“As of December 15, Jaimee was diagnosed with COVID-19 and kidney failure, she has suffered greatly. Her body has been unable to fight the infections and her time on this earth is coming to a close. She is close to her next adventure and joining her loved ones in heaven. “

I am so sorry that we didn’t get to spend that special time together that we talked about; that we wrote about; that we looked forward to together.  As you look outside and see what you think may be the “Star of Bethlehem” look closer.  It might very well be Jaimee on her journey to her next adventure.  And when she gets there it wouldn’t surprise me if “Old Pal” is waiting for her, water bottle in one paw and a CD in the other.

Jaimee, you touched so many lives; made a positive difference it all of them.  You will never be forgotten.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Debbie December 22, 2020 at 10:55 am

Thank you for sharing!

What a wonderful tribute to an old friend and someone who helped so many along the way.


Judi Curry December 22, 2020 at 11:14 am

Thank you, Debbie. She has touched many people’s lives in many positive ways. I have never heard anyone say anything negative about her. Do not know many people like this!


Mary December 22, 2020 at 11:28 am

Beautiful tribute to a very special friend. Love the story.
It’s a nice treat from all the other news hitting the airways.
TY for sharing


Judi Curry December 22, 2020 at 12:34 pm

Thanks, Mary. I wish you had met her when she was here.


Candy Ruthven December 22, 2020 at 3:25 pm

Judi, what a beautiful story about such a wonderful person. I’m so sorry for all she’s gone through and for what she is going through now. I’ll pray for her and her family. I believe she and Old Pal will be reunited in heaven. Blessings.


Judi Curry December 22, 2020 at 3:42 pm

Thanks, Candy. A very special lady.


Stephen Burr December 22, 2020 at 11:05 pm

What a very special sentiment towards her many contributions as your friend: as well as a wonderful example of how she lived her life as a caring, selfless human being. God bless her and Thank you for the touching excerpt.


Judi December 23, 2020 at 12:25 am

Stephen as I read the comments by others in her Facebook page it is obvious that the way she interacted with me was the norm for her. People are citing all of the wonderful deeds she did for them. A truly remarkable person. Thank you for your comments.


Anne Blankenship December 23, 2020 at 2:29 pm

Thank you for your story of love and appreciation. Probably all of us have had a friend who has been special in one way or another, but service to others is at the top of the list. I’m happy to know of her and thank her for touching so many lives.


Judi curry December 26, 2020 at 7:45 am

My wonderful friend passed away at 4:45am December 26th. RIP Jaimee. I hope we meet again.


Stuart Smits December 26, 2020 at 3:46 pm

Gratitude is the memory of the heart.


Lori December 27, 2020 at 7:13 pm

What a lovely tribute to her life and your friendship- thank you for writing this.
And condolences to you and Jaimee’s family- and the countless students she helped.

I toured the Job Corps campus in South bay many years ago, and later taught in a community college program that is very similar: aimed at offering free technical/vocational training to students who don’t have access to “traditional” educational opportunities. Some were homeless, or slept in cars. Others were managing PTSD from military service, and job losses late in life.

So, while I never met Jaimee, I feel that I know her from a shared commitment to teaching the most “special” students… and our preference to travel with dogs in cars vs. luggage compartments.

DEP Jaimee


Judi Curry December 29, 2020 at 4:07 pm

Thank you for your comments, Lori. The Job Corps Program really is an excellent program. I hope that with this pandemic that school districts go back to Vocational Education. A high percentage of our students received jobs that they are still in today – maybe not the same companies, but the skills they learned are being put to use in other fields. Many of our placements were due to Jaimee.


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