Jerry Shockey spent a lot of last month in the Philippines with his wife, Beth. It wasn’t a pleasure trip. It was a duty.
Jerry had to take Beth back to her family to be buried. She was just 38 years old when she died of a heart condition she had fought since age 5.
It was “sheer accident” that brought Jerry, from Egg Harbor Township, together with the former Beth Garachico, from the Philippine island of Mindoro. But once they met, it was just a year or so before they were married and Beth moved to South Jersey.
Beth, who had studied to be a Catholic nun, was upfront about her health troubles.
“Right away, she told me I might want to think twice about her,” said Jerry, 58, who owns a water-purification company. “She said,‘I’m a bionic woman — I’ve got a metal heart valve.’” She needed the mechanical help because she had rheumatic fever as a girl, and it wrecked her heart valves. Just in the five years they were married, “She had four major operations,” Jerry said — including two open-heart surgeries.
But Beth wasn’t the type to complain — or even to just stay home and out of sight. One of her favorite parts of life in America was being part of the Mainland/FAA Toastmasters Club, a branch of Toastmasters International.
That’s a group that helps people overcome fear of public speaking by making them get up and give public speeches. Beth had a built-in introduction to the club — Jerry is a veteran member.
Beth quickly became an enthusiastic Toastmaster, even though she had to make all her speeches in English, which wasn’t her native language. She grew up speaking Tagalog, a popular Philippine dialect. She studied English in school, but “when she first came over, her English was a little rough,” recalls Robert Cranston, a Toastmasters friend from Upper Township.
But Cranston saw “tremendous improvement” in Beth’s speech — and in the Toastmasters chapter after Beth rose to be its president within just a few years.
“She could work with people and make them love her,” Cranston said. “She was an angel.”
She was an orphan too. Her father abandoned Beth, her three brothers and a sister, and her mother died when Beth was 13 — leaving their oldest brother to raise a poor family.
But Beth worked hard in school, and got her master’s degree from Lyceum of the Philippines University. She finished it from Egg Harbor Township.
She went back to the Philippines to get her degree, and one of her dreams in life was to go back again to start an orphanage. So when Jerry took his wife back last month, for the last time, he also found an orphanage to which he donated the money that came to the Beth Garachico-Shockey Memorial Fund, so Beth could help other poor kids.
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