Jerome Basil Herlehy was born in Windsor, Ont., on Oct. 22, 1958, to Christine, a nurse, and Basil Herlehy, a high-school custodian. As a young boy, Jerry, as he was known, liked to tag along with his dad when he went to work in the evenings, shooting hoops in the empty school gymnasium. He was a natural athlete who excelled in track and field and played hockey, earning the nickname “Hacker” at DeLaSalle Elementary School for the way he whacked his stick on the ice. Although he was popular, Jerry was a quiet boy who liked to help others. He was only 10 when Basil died and he became a father-figure to his younger brother and sister, Patrick and Charlene. When he was just 14, he met his future wife, Anne-Marie Poupard, at the Adie Knox Herman Arena in Windsor. “He was ice-skating with his friend and we just stared at him going round and round,” says Anne-Marie, who was sitting in the stands with her friends. With his dark, shoulder-length hair flying, “He was very cute,” she says. Anne-Marie, who also stood out with her mop of fiery red hair, eyed Jerry as he eyed her. Years later, Jerry told her that he knew the first time he saw her that she was the girl for him. He followed Anne-Marie out of the arena that night and they began to date.
Since they lived on opposite sides of the city, Jerry biked to Anne-Marie’s house where they spent hours on the front porch talking about their future together. One time, Jerry kissed her goodbye and kept waving at her as he peddled home. He was so distracted, he rode right into a street pole and fell off his bike. Red-faced, he got back on and took off without a word. At W.D. Lowe Secondary School, where he and Anne-Marie were students, Jerry excelled in his technical courses. He loved working with his hands and left school early for a job at Windsor Lumber. When he was 17, his mother moved away to Manitoulin Island with her second husband, leaving Jerry in charge of the 48-unit apartment building near the University of Windsor that his stepfather had managed.
From then on, Jerry took care of renting the apartments and maintaining the building, which he also lived in. “One time there was a leak in the roof and Jerry went up and tarred it,” says Anne-Marie. “Unfortunately he didn’t do a very good job because one day it caved in and went through somebody’s apartment.” Still, Jerrytook special care of the tenants, especially the elderly women. He changed burnt-out light bulbs, bought what they needed at the store and hung pictures for them. In return, they lavished home-cooked meals on him (his favourite was seafood).
Jerry and Anne-Marie married on Oct. 27, 1979, when they were both 21. He left the apartment job and went to work full-time on the line at GM Transmission. Jerry wanted to save enough money to build a comfortable home and buy a boat. Although he never learned to swim, he often talked about boating, an activity he thought of as so peaceful that he once rented a pontoon craft on a vacation in Florida and went fishing. In the early 1980s, the couple bought land in the Windsor suburb of Tecumseh. Jerry oversaw the building of their four-level, backsplit house, complete with an in-ground pool, which he added so the kids, Jerome, Christopher and Danielle, who all took swimming lessons, could enjoy the summers. He laid the cement around the pool and did a lot of the repair work in the house himself. “He did all the flooring,” Anne-Marie says. “He measured and put up all the new windows. He got a real sense of accomplishment.”
Jerry waited until 2000 to buy a used, green-and-white, 21-foot Stingray speedboat that only had eight hours of driving time on it. He was extremely excited over his purchase and often took his children to Peche Island, 330 m off the Detroit River shoreline at the eastern edge of Windsor, to swim or play beach volleyball, while he washed his prize possession. The island was small and close to land, but it felt like a getaway to him, says his wife, who never liked boating as much as Jerry because it made her seasick. Someday, he wanted to buy a bigger boat so Anne-Marie would be more comfortable. More than the relaxation, “Big Jerry,” as he became known at the local Lakeview Park Marina, loved boating for the friends he made. He would often tow boaters who ran out of gas, or help lift a Sea-Doo out of the water. “If he chose you as a friend, he would do anything for you,” says Andrew Studman, who worked alongside Jerry at GM for the last 10 years.
On Sunday, July 13, Jerry took his tools down to the marina to fix the water pump on the Stingray. He slipped and fell into the water between the dock and his boat. Four people dove in to save him, but he drowned. Jerry Herlehy was 49.