A man with a gun was on a rampage in Gerald Read’s office in the Navy Yard, shooting people at close range and seemingly drawn to any human movement in his vicinity.
As the shooter approached Read and a female colleague, Read pushed the co-worker beneath a desk, barricaded her in and pulled a cubicle partition into the gunman’s path, hoping to stop or slow him.
The maneuver did not save Read’s life. But his colleague survived.
Monday, a week after the massacre that left 12 people and the shooter dead and the nation grappling with the fallout of another mass shooting, Read’s colleagues at the Naval Sea Systems Command were among 200 family members and friends who mourned his death at a private service in an Alexandria funeral home. They spoke of Read’s final moments, for the first time describing his selfless effort to save the life of a co-worker as he faced down a killer.
“If it was not for Gerald, my hero, for pushing me down in the cubicle and my God guarding over me, I would not be here today,” the co-worker who survived wrote in a remembrance she was too broken up to deliver. Another colleague read it. It called Read the woman’s “guardian angel and hero.”
Those who worked with Read — all of whom asked that their names not be used because the attack devastated them — provided poignant accounts of both the stark violence that surrounded Read’s death and the quiet heroism of his life.
Read, 58, was a longtime Army officer who rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel. He had a background in military law enforcement and later became a civilian expert in cybersecurity for the Navy. He worked in a tight-knit office in the Navy Yard’s Building 197.
His memorial service at Jefferson Funeral Chapel began with military honors, replete with the strains of taps from a bugler playing outside an open door and the careful folding of an American flag.
A Navy officer presented the flag to Read’s widow, Cathy, to whom he was married for 35 years. Adm. John Richardson, director of the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program, told the gathering that Read “gave the greatest possible gift, paid the ultimate sacrifice. He gave everything he had.”
Sean Read described his uncle as a man of character who had once been an Eagle Scout and helped his nephew reach the same goal. Reflecting on what happened in Read’s final moments, Sean said: “Without a doubt in my mind, Jerry helped others until he could do so no more.”
Read’s former boss, Tony Geddie, recalled him as an articulate, detail-minded expert who mastered cybersecurity laws and regulations. He was “the consummate professional” but also took time for the people around him, Geddie said.
He recalled that Read often looked out for another colleague killed that day, Sylvia Frasier. “His teammates, they loved him, and so did I,” Geddie said.
Others spoke of Read’s humor — a deftness with carefully timed one-liners — and his years in Pennsylvania, where he often took the brunt of older brother David’s pranks.
“In our family, he had the distinction of being the brainiac,” David Read said.
The man known as “Jer” to his wife and close relatives had a full life outside of work and spent a lot of time caring for animals. He and his wife rescued Labrador retrievers, and they had four dogs and two cats at home.
Read was particularly attached to Roderick, a black Lab that was always at his side in and around the family home in the Mount Vernon area of Fairfax County.
Cathy Read said she wanted the service to reflect the passion her husband had — his bent for public service, for the military, for history — but also to be a gentle remembrance. There were no television cameras. There were six simple photographs displayed, mostly family pictures and one of Read in combat fatigues.
Read left behind a daughter and three grandchildren.
The memorial came seven days after the last time she bid him good-bye as he left for work at 5:20 a.m. on Sept. 16, as was his daily routine. She had said, “See you tonight for dinner.”
On the eve of Read’s funeral, she reflected: “Jer would expect us to go on . . . and keep doing the daily good we’re supposed to be doing.”
Presiding at the service was the Rev. Deacon Ann H. Truitt, who detailed Read’s career of accomplishment.
He had served in the Army nearly three decades — on active duty and in the reserves. During the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he worked at Fort Belvoir with the Army Materiel Command, supervising efforts to supply forces overseas.
“Jerry Read was a patriot, a soldier and someone who ultimately gave his life in the service of our country,” Truitt said.
But Truitt added that Read was also someone who understood life “was so much more than an impressive résumé. He was a man who loved life, who loved his wife and family, who took joy in the richness of books and the study of history, and of course his beloved dogs.”
After the service, several of his colleagues reflected on the horror of the day when they lost Read — and others — in their 12-person office. None wished to be quoted by name. But two women nodded as one said that Read would always remain with them, protecting them in a different way.