The line of people waiting to express condolences stretched nearly to Calvert City from the doorstep of Collier Funeral Home in Benton, a sight Jerry English would have been deeply moved to see as he is remembered for loving others above himself through a lifetime of service to the Marshall County community.
English was 76 years old when he died on July 12 after spending the last few years at Calvert City Convalescent, battling Parkinson's disease and dementia. And while his family and friends mourn the loss, they also remember his many great deeds, his kind heart and his charitable actions.
English's dedication to his community began with his service in the U.S. Navy from 1960-1964. Several years later, he began his first term as an elected official, Marshall County Sheriff, a role in which he served from 1974-1978.
His son, Troy English, said it was during that term his father created the Kentucky Sheriff's Boys Ranch (which now also invites girls) and recalled English going to Florida to visit a similar camp before finalizing plans for the one still open and running today in Gilbertsville. He said English wanted to create a place and opportunity for underprivileged boys to go to camp, boys whose parents weren't able to pay for them to attend a camp elsewhere.
Troy said during English's term as sheriff, he also advocated for sheriffs within the state to the Kentucky Supreme Court for the ability to serve more than one term, something which he knew wouldn't take root until after he was already out of office. He also served as president of the Kentucky Sheriff's Association. In addition, at the time of his election, English was the youngest elected sheriff in the history of Kentucky.
At the time his father was elected to the position, Troy said the Marshall County Sheriff's Office didn't have police cruisers or even uniforms -- both of which English ensured they had before he left his term. He laughed recalling his father as sheriff, noting it was a different time but reflecting fondly saying that even in that role, his father was kind and compassionate above all else.
"He wrote one speeding ticket in four years of being sheriff and I was with him when he wrote it. That bothered him more than anything, to have people pay a court fine and the cost," he said. "He brought more people in with their parents and he thought that was better than writing tickets, bringing them in and talking to them. I'm telling you, it was something to watch, and they would be scared to death but he only wrote one speeding ticket in his whole term."
Four years after having to leave the office, English ran an unsuccessful second bid for the sheriff seat. Four years later, he ran a successful campaign to become a county magistrate for district 3, an office which later changed to county commissioner, and he served in that role for three decades.
During his time as county commissioner, Troy recalled, English was involved in revitalizing the county's infrastructure, which was a top priority for English and late Judge-Executive Mike Miller, who became close friend to English as they served side-by-side. He said together they oversaw a number of positive changes to the roads, construction of necessary buildings and overall growth of the county we enjoy today. He said they are also remembered for prioritizing the nonprofits and helping people who needed it.
"There's no telling how many Christmases he bought for kids that he didn't know," Troy recalled. "He would find a family that needed help and he and Mike [Miller] would do it together sometimes, getting toys and clothes, and people never knew he did that and he didn't tell anybody because that's not why he did it."
English's namesake, aside from the large family he left behind, is the Jerry G. English Veteran's Memorial Plaza in the Mike Miller Park in Draffenville. He is credited with its inception and spearheading construction to honor veterans from all branches of the U.S. military. When he was no longer serving as an elected official, Troy said English poured himself and his passion for honoring veterans even more into the plaza, every year adding something new. He said English even laid many of the bricks himself.
Troy also recalled his father's love of racing, a passion he passed along to his son. He recalled the other kids at school talking about fishing and hunting with their fathers but between the two of them, there's 50 years of racing in the family.
But if he had to sum up his father in one word, Troy said, it would be, "compassionate."
"Some kids growing up look to Batman or Superman, but I had Jerry English. He was the most amazing man; he was the hero in my life," Troy said. "I grew to be 6'5" and he was barely 6' but I always looked up to him--every day he was taller than me."
Tesha Treas, one of English's daughters, said, "People from across the county are coming out of the woodwork to tell us what a fine man he was and it's so appreciated."
She recalled her father as a genuine, truthful man who taught his children to emulate those characteristics as well. She also recalled his charitable spirit and tendency to give people second chances.
"One time at the car lot, we had a guy who was 90 days late on his payment and Dad went to talk to him. When he got back, he didn't have the car and when I asked him what happened he said, 'The guy was a veteran and had cancer, so I let him keep the car and I gave him $20 for gas money,'" she said with a laugh. "And that was just him in a nutshell. He was a compassionate person and he just wanted to help everyone he came into contact with. Whether they loved him or hated him, he was willing to help and he's going to be greatly missed by all of us."
Treas said English was "an amazing dad" but managed to be an even better grandfather who never missed a ballgame or event for any of the 10 grandkids or three great-grandkids.
Tiffany English, another of English's daughters, said she's proud of English, of the work he did while he was able and the legacy he leaves behind.
"He was just a great man. He didn't want a lot of credit and he did things without people knowing because he didn't do it for political gain," she said. "He loved people and he was just a great person. I just have so much respect for him. He was not perfect and he wasn't always politically correct, but he was always sincere and always true. It just feels like the world is a little less safe and a little less good without him."
Former Marshall County Commissioner Bob Gold, who worked alongside English for a term, said English was a positive influence who helped Gold "learn how to get things done."
"He was an excellent commissioner. He worked as hard for his district as anyone that I ever worked with," he said. "He put thought into how to improve the county but he also was thoughtful for how his district roads were in shape and everything that needed to be done was done. He helped folks any time he could--you made a phone call and he would help."
"I thought a lot of him, I learned a lot from him and felt like he was a good friend," he added.
Former Marshall County Judge-Executive Chyrill Miller, widow of Mike Miller, said English was a good friend to her and to her late husband. She recalled family vacations together when they would travel to Florida to visit mutual friends. But most of her memories were of the many projects in which her late husband and English teamed up with a goal to make Marshall County the best it could be.
"He and Mike were the greatest of buddies and worked together so well during their service together," she said. "He made so many wonderful contributions to the county during his service to the community. I extend my heartfelt condolences to the family -- he will surely be missed."