The best term one can use to describe the life of Ronnie Jett is “dedicated volunteer.” Ronnie always saw the proverbial “big picture” when discussing the ways and means of doing the most good for the largest number of people.
Throughout the course of his lifetime he spent thousands of hours working selflessly in order for Northumberland County to have the best possible rescue squad units to be able to respond as quickly as possible to any emergency situation, be it on land or water.
Long before he came to serve on the board of supervisors, he could be counted upon to appear at public meetings advocating for support for the work of the rescue squads. He spoke not only in favor of financial support, but also to encourage personal engagement, getting people involved in the process, whether as volunteers or as donors. He genuinely wanted everyone to have access to sound life-saving measures.
In the 1990s he was a major proponent of the additional rescue units at Burgess and Heathsville, thereby affording speedier access to those in need. He wanted the best equipment and trained personnel to be available at each station. Neatness was also critical to Ronnie; he made sure that all the ambulances and stations were uniformly immaculate.
As to measures on the water, Ronnie was equally anxious for public safety. When he thought a situation called for his help, he would drop whatever he was doing, jump in his boat, and be on the scene. He worked closely in that regard with the Virginia Marine Resources Commission. No one knew more about the waters of Northumberland County than Ronnie, and he eagerly shared his knowledge with VMRC officers and board members, working to secure sound practices and policies in maritime matters.
His constant efforts in the realm of public health care were made in addition to running his own seafood business between Reedville and Fleeton, where he applied the same standards of excellence that characterized his work with the rescue squads.
In Ronnie’s case one can expand the adage that a place was sufficiently clean enough “to eat off of the floor” to “off of the grass” as well. On a rise overlooking Cockrell Creek, he set up picnic tables for his patrons to be able to take their meals outside in good weather and dine by the water watching boats come and go in the harbor.
For nearly 28 years Ronnie served on the board of supervisors, having been elected to seven terms representing the Reedville area. He cared for the county and its employees, its students, and its citizens. Civic pride was important to Ronnie, and he sought to instill it in everyone else. He was a product of the Northumberland school system, which he wanted to thrive for the young generation coming forward.
His own health was precarious at times, but he never let concern for himself interfere with what he thought was important for the county as a whole. He did not speak of himself, but of what he considered more significant concerns.
Last Saturday, Ronnie died after a debilitating illness that sapped his physical strength, but not his generous spirit. He has left Northumberland County a better place, particularly in terms of health care, than he found it. In times of emergency, those in need will continue to benefit from Ronnie’s legacy to his many fellow dedicated volunteers of putting the needs of those in crisis first and foremost.
On a personal note, Ronnie and I had a long-standing banter back and forth about when he would open a branch of Cockrell’s Creek Seafood in Wicomico Church, thereby saving me the drive over to Fleeton. He always would chuckle, and come back with an amusing retort, for humor was also a great part of Ronnie’s life.
Ronald Lee “Ronnie” Jett, January 28, 1953 – August 5, 2023. R.I.P.