A few weeks ago, I went to an event hosted by Mortar Board Senior Honor Society. It was part of their speaker series, and the guest on that day was Shirley Brooks-Jones, a former Ohio State employee whose flight on September 11, 2001 was diverted to Gander, Newfoundland. Having seen the musical
Come from Away, which tells the story of the 7,000 passengers stranded in Canada, over the summer, I was really excited to hear from the woman who started the scholarship for the students of Gander mentioned in the show.
Before Mrs. Brooks-Jones spoke about Canada, she gave a backstory on her life and how came to Ohio State. Her family couldn’t afford to send her to college, but she started working at Ohio State as an assistant to the vice president of the agriculture school. Over the years, she held other positions, including as a university fundraiser, a job she loved because it allowed her to meet people with diverse connections to Ohio State. She was able to complete her bachelor’s degree over many years while working at the university, finally realizing a goal that had been denied to her for many years.
Shirley Brooks-Jones. Photo: Columbus Dispatch
Mrs. Brooks-Jones was traveling back from a long vacation overseas on September 11 when the passengers were told their plane would be diverted to Canada due to a mechanical problem. When they landed, the pilot told everyone the truth about what happened. Mrs. Brooks-Jones was bused to a small town near Gander, where she was housed and fed by residents for the next three days. The generosity of the Newfoundlanders inspired her to give back. When she heard about how many of the local children were financially unable to continue their education after high school, her background made forming a scholarship a natural choice. Starting at $15,000, the scholarship has now accumulated over $2 million, and Mrs. Brooks-Jones has returned to Newfoundland, a place she never imagined being, countless times.
So much of what Mrs. Brooks-Jones discussed, her humble upbringing, her rising through the university ranks and the stories she’s heard from the kids in Gander, was so inspiring; and it was a great complement to
Come from Away.