Even a brief visit with Jeff Jacober produced valuable lessons for life

The news hit the Providence business community hard.

Jeff Jacober, a prominent Providence businessman and philanthropist, died Saturday, March 26, along with his wife Karen and their 15-year-old son, Eric, when the single-engine plane Jacober was flying crashed in central Pennsylvania.

Also killed were close friends of the Jacobers, Gregg and Dawn Weingeroff and their 10-year-old son, Leland. Gregg Weingeroff, also a businessman and philanthropist, was president of Weingeroff Enterprises, a Cranston jewelry company.

The families were on their way to Penn State University, where the Jacobers’ 21-year-old son, Michael, was to play in a lacrosse game.

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My lone encounter with Jeff Jacober took place in September of 1999 when I interviewed him for this paper. We spent about an hour together. At the time he had a small office in an old Providence warehouse.

The office wasn’t so impressive. But Jacober was.

I remember that Jacober was an intriguing person – that he was full of energy and ideas.

He talked about starting a T-shirt business while he was a student at URI and about how his father and grandfather – who had both owned retail stores – instilled in him a work ethic. He talked about creating The Ocean Group, essentially a business born to create or assist startup businesses.

He also talked a lot about his family. During a difficult stretch, his younger sister, Ellen, who worked for him, passed away. Then, a younger brother needed a kidney transplant. Jeff Jacober donated a kidney to his brother in 1993.

About the same time, Jacober endured a health scare of his own. He described it as a mild form of cancer.

I asked him what he had learned from those difficult times.

“It teaches you that life is short,” he said. “And you never know when something is going to come up from behind and bite you. You have to live every day – not like it’s your last – but you have to get something out of every day.”

He appeared in this paper again in December of 2003.

Here’s the beginning of a story written by Mike Colias, now a reporter with the Associated Press in Chicago. It was a wonderful story about Angel Flight Northeast, the North Andover, Mass.-based affiliate of Angel Flight America. Volunteer pilots for Angel Flight America transported 25,000 patients that year, many of them cancer or burn victims from remote areas who required chemotherapy or radiation treatments, surgeries or other procedures at faraway hospitals. Nearly half of the patients were children.

Jacober was one of those volunteer pilots.

Pilots are accustomed to flying through wind, rain, the dark of night. But rarely must they fly through tears.

That’s what Jeffrey Jacober found himself doing four years ago while on his first mission for Angel Flight Northeast, a charitable organization that provides free flights to patients who need help reaching a hospital for chemotherapy, reconstructive surgeries or other vital treatments.

In the back of Jacober’s six-seat Beechcraft Bonanza airplane sat Laurie, a 12-year-old burn victim from Syracuse. A trailer fire several months earlier left third-degree burns over nearly 90 percent of her body. Her feet and hands had been amputated, her face all but gone, Jacober said.

Shocked, he carried Laurie from the awaiting volunteer van on the tarmac, strapping her in for the one-hour flight to Shriners Hospital in Boston for one of her many reconstructive surgeries.

“I knew I was picking up a burn victim, but I had no idea the extent of her injuries,” said Jacober. “I was overcome with emotion. Here was this little girl who had survived this fire, and now she’s in my plane and I’m flying her. It helps you realize that what you’re doing is such a small piece compared to what they’re going through. It’s a warm, humbling feeling.”