“He’d come by and pick me up,” Buck recalled. “He was just so sweet. He loved his music, and he’d have his ’70s station on. Teddy Pendergrass. He’d sing to lighten the mood. . . . When we got there, he’d never go in. He’d bring his coffee and newspaper and wait in the car, and as soon as he’d see me come out, he’d hop out, run around the car, and he’d look at me and say, ‘Are you okay?’ He’d say, ‘Let me give you a hug.’ ”
She paused on the phone, gathering her composure.
“He’d give me a great, big hug, you know? He’d say, ‘You got this, girl,’ and he’d open the door for me and help me in.”
Manley, a married father of four, was hospitalized last week and died Tuesday at CalvertHealth Medical Center. He was one of more than 100 novel coronavirus fatalities in Maryland, Virginia and the District, a toll that keeps rising.
Big Jerry’s network of friends, now mourners, was vast and varied, owing to his decades of charity work and to his outsize, boisterous personality, which was more than occasionally R-rated.
“A gentle giant who’d give you the shirt off his back and not expect anything in return,” said his neighbor Kelly Brogan, 49, adding that Manley’s personal motto as the life of every party was “I like beer” — an understatement, as friends laughingly tell it.
How did he catch this insidious illness advancing exponentially in all directions around the planet? His loved ones and others who were close to him, like disease-trackers and the bereaved worldwide, are left to ponder and agonize, plumbing memories, retracing steps, searching for nexuses.
There was the annual seven-day family Caribbean cruise that he and 16 relatives embarked on in mid-February, by which time the disease had spread beyond China to other countries, though no cases had yet been reported in the United States.
Then, on Feb. 23, the day after he got off the ship, he and his five siblings stood at their mother’s hospital bedside, clasping her frail hands as she died of respiratory failure, ending a weeks-long battle with pneumonia. None wore gloves or a mask. The first confirmed U.S. death from covid-19, in the Seattle area, was still five days away.
And there was the big party at his brother Billy’s beach house in Ocean City, Md., in mid-March, on the weekend before St. Patrick’s Day, with about two dozen revelers packed indoors before all went out to a crowded Irish pub that Saturday night. Not until the following day, March 15, would the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officially advise against gatherings of 50 or more people.
“No one has any idea whether the party had anything to do with this, or whether some of those people were already sick and didn’t realize it,” said Billy Manley, 61. “Oh, my God, there would have been no Ocean City trip. But the information wasn’t getting out to us fast enough.”
The only underlying medical issue Manley was known to have before he got sick was a blood pressure problem, his brother said.
Jerry Manley, who retired after 33 years in law enforcement, with the Prince George’s County Sheriff's Office and later the police department, was an advocate and volunteer event staffer for Special Olympics Maryland. Among other charitable work, he helped organize and run the Maryland State Police Polar Bear Plunge into the Chesapeake Bay every January since 1997, when it began raising money for Special Olympics.
What got him into the Olympics was his loving relationship with a former poster child, Jimmy Myrick Jr., born with Down syndrome. Myrick was a golfer, basketball player and swimmer, and the son of an old friend of Manley’s.
“They’d never miss an opportunity to rag on each other,” Jimmy Myrick Sr., 63, said. “But there was an understanding, always, that Jerry had Jimmy’s back and Jimmy had Jerry’s.”
When Jimmy Jr. died of leukemia in 2016, at age 33, it was as if a child of Manley’s had passed away.
For 15 years, Manley also played a big part in putting together the annual Mickey Steele Celebrity Golf and Poker Tournament — named for a deceased friend. The event benefited Special Olympics Maryland, Children’s National Hospital and a pediatric cancer foundation created by former Washington Redskins quarterback Mark Rypien, another Manley pal.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) knew him, too. “I lost a good friend, fellow Marylander, and all-around great guy,” the governor tweeted.
Manley’s specialty was wrangling autographed sports memorabilia — balls, photos, jerseys — for charity auctions. He did this for the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center and other such organizations. And, almost daily, there were his innumerable smaller acts of kindness, as with Buck.
“I’ll tell you, the only thing in life he wasn’t nice to was Bud Light,” his friend Danny Moltz, 52, said with a chuckle, “because Jerry just punished Bud Light.”
Billy Manley said, “Oh, yeah, Jerry could put it away.”
Since his younger brother’s death, he said, he has been thumbing through photos from February’s Norwegian Escape cruise.
“Wherever we went, damn, all the chairs are facing Jerry! Jerry was making the drinks; Jerry was telling the jokes; Jerry was leading the dancing. Jerry was the guy, by the first day, five bartenders knew Jerry’s name. It was so crazy, the bartenders would come over to us and say, ‘Jerry, what kind of shots do you want to do next?’ ”
When their 86-year-old mother, Delores Manley, fell ill with pneumonia in late January, there hadn’t been a coronavirus case reported outside China, so her family doubts she was infected. Still, they wonder. On Feb. 29, the six siblings gathered with scores of people for the funeral. The next day, “my sister’s husband came up sick,” Billy Manley said. “Three or four others came up sick. I came up sick,” though Jerry didn’t, yet.
Their relatively minor flu-like symptoms lasted less than a week, he said. Then came the Ocean City gathering, beginning Friday night, March 13, hours after President Trump declared a national emergency. Among the partygoers were several friends of Jerry Manley’s from his Huntingtown, Md., neighborhood, 50 miles southeast of the District, and afterward, some of them became ill.
“We went there before things were shut down,” said Brogan. “I mean, people were at work that day before we all went to the beach — there were no quarantines, no social distancing, no nothing.”
If it was covid-19 afflicting those neighbors, it was fairly mild, as most cases are, and they felt well again in a couple of days. But by the following weekend, March 21-22, Jerry Manley was sick, addled by fatigue and what seemed to be a worsening cold. On March 26, after he began struggling to breathe, he was taken by ambulance to a hospital.
That was a Thursday.
“They placed him in a medically induced coma Friday,” said Nate Garland, an executive with Special Olympics Maryland. “Sunday, we got word that they brought him out of the coma, and we actually thought he was improving, But apparently Monday, he spiked a high fever. And then Tuesday morning, he passed.”
He is survived by two daughters and two sons, all grown, and his wife, Valerie Manley, who was too broken up to be interviewed, Billy Manley said.
On Friday, though, she sent a text. She said, “There is such an outpouring of love from so many it has helped give myself and our kids so much comfort.”
She said, “He was our rock, we never had to worry because he took such great care in making sure we were loved and cared for.”
She said, “He kept us laughing and was the most generous man we ever knew.”