When it looked like Jeannette "Jay" Ho, 42, wasn’t going to survive long, a line started forming outside her door at , friends and loved ones crowding the lobby.
There had already been many people there since Monday. Jeannette comes from a huge family – one of ten siblings (a brother passed away many years ago), her mother has 13 siblings in the tri-state area, and there are over 70 first cousins. Her parents are elderly, having retired to Scarborough Manor – Stanley is 99, Margaret is 84.
Grace Ho, who lives in the Rivertowns, is the oldest sibling of the large bunch but said she always actually looked up to Jeannette, the youngest, as a role model. Jeannette referred to herself and Grace as “the bookends.”
“She was beloved,” Grace said.
Clearly. Facebook posts started streaming in after the news of her passing at 3 p.m. on Thursday spread. She lives on here in many photos of embracing, smiling friends, many messages of support, shock and sadness.
I am stunned by this sad news. Sleepy Hollow / Tarrytown will not be the same without your energy and kindness.
Jeannette has always been one of the loveliest, warmest, bravest women I've ever had the pleasure of knowing.
You have touched some many people's lives and will be missed by all.
Jeannette, you have always made all of us be better, and live better, and we will all continue to do that because of you.
And on and on at the rate of a post every few minutes.
It seems almost inaccurate to post a photo here of Jeannette not surrounded by people, as she often had been. But she was also a very private person. Jeannette had a longtime partnership with the love of her life, Keith Bonney, whom she met at . She enjoyed “simple things,” Grace said.
From a fortune cookie she liked: "Just to be alive is a grand thing."
The Bridge Plaza complex holds many memories for this family. For 25 years they owned and operated the Shanghai Inn restaurant (which Grace attests was the first Chinese restaurant in Westchester), where is now. After growing up in a restaurant, Jeannette continued these business roots, with a twist, by co-owning Baskin Robbins, now . Then, for five years, she worked at Eileen Fisher in Irvington. At each point in her life she seems to have inspired everyone around her.
Among those holding vigil for her at the hospital this week, was one of the "kids" (now about to be married) that she taught how to “scoop” at Baskin Robbins.
Cancer had been a part of her life since she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at the age of 20. She beat that, in remission for 13 years, only to develop breast cancer, which necessitated a double mastectomy. A few years later, cancer would return again.
Rowing in the last several years had become something that gave Jeannette some relief and strength and almost spiritual reinvigoration.
I had written about her both in her training for breast cancer fundraising and her successful, spirited mission to bring to the Villages this Christmas raising money for a children's hospital. Sadly, Ho wasn't well enough to participate in the in August that she had been training weekly for in Queens, but her team honored her that day.
It’s been a rollercoaster, as Jeannette put it on Facebook, since the Fourth of July weekend, when she started experiencing shortness of breath and a CAT scan revealed two carcinoma masses on her lungs. After a biopsy in August, her condition was considered life-threatening and therapy was soon cut short due to complications.
Jeannette was put on medication for the pain and soon the goal became just to make her comfortable. Grace had nothing but praise and gratitude toward the staff at Phelps that helped her do just that. “They were very nice, they were incredible,” creating a peaceful hospice-like environment in which everyone could say their goodbyes.
Bonney was her greatest ally in her battle, the true picture of "enduring love," said Grace. "There wasn't anything he wouldn't do for her."
But even when when it looked like Jeannette wouldn’t make it through the night (on Monday, on Tuesday, then on Wednesday), she kept fighting. “She just held on. Boy did she fight. She is so strong.”
Even survivors must eventually succumb.
“I don’t think she’ll ever stop giving,” Grace said. “She was vital.”
SantaCon will continue. Grace will row in the Dragon Boat competition next year with breast cancer survivors and sympathizers. She was inspired by her sister, in her 60s to start rowing, and is perhaps the “oldest one out there,” she said.
Friends and family are invited for visitation on Sunday at in Tarrytown Sunday, Sept. 16 from 2 pm - 4 pm and 7 pm - 9 pm. A memorial service will be held at on Monday, Sept. 17 at 11 a.m.
Grace anticipates large crowds. “We couldn’t hold them back.”
Jeannette certainly did not die alone. And her time spent raising money for causes important to her is not done. “She'll be keeping us very busy,” Grace said. "She has passed the torch."
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Tarrytown Senior Center at 914-631-2304 or to Dr. Abraham Mittelman, M.D., Breast Cancer Research at NY Medical College, Valhalla, NY 10595, 914-701-0001.
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