Ridgefield teacher, selfless volunteer dies from COVID-19: 'She always put people ahead of her'

Photo of Sandra Diamond Fox

RIDGEFIELD — Whatever task she was involved in, Jennifer Hawkins Mason, a longtime teacher at Ridgefield Public Schools, gave 110 percent, said her colleagues, friends, family and those for whom she volunteered. 

"She's not one that ever had something falling through the cracks. You step back and say, 'How do you have all this energy? How do you cover all the bases?" said Neal Bowes, former director of youth ministry at Jesse Lee Memorial United Methodist Church in Ridgefield.
"She was the backbone of all of those. She just really made that happen."

Mason, 61, died Sept. 14 after a long battle with COVID-19. She's survived by her husband Scott Mason; children Heather, Tori, Lindsay and David; 1-year-old grandson Noah; mother  Anne Hawkins; and other family members.

She was born in Virginia and moved to Ridgefield her junior year of high school. She graduated Ridgefield High School in 1979 and married Scott Mason in 1985. She taught for 30 years in Ridgefield schools — most recently fifth grade at Farmingville Elementary School.

In and out of school, Mason was involved in many activities, including as a Girl Scout leader, singing in the New York City SymphoNYChorus, and Jesse Lee church's handbell choir.

Ridgefield Schools Superintendent Susie Da Silva said Mason "had a warm, kind, beautiful smile that made people feel comfortable instantly. She cared deeply for her school and community."

Ridgefield resident Jennifer Southworth became friends with Mason through a prayer group they were in, which would meet once a week before school started.

"Our relationship was based on faith. We would pray for the students, the staff, the  administration, the district. We prayed for each other's families," said Southworth. "That connected us in a big way."


 A large part of Mason's life was her church, Jesse Lee in Ridgefield, where she volunteered for over 20 years. 

Bowes, who now lives in Tennessee, said Mason would volunteer for "absolutely everything."

"At some point, as the youth ministry grew, we created a position and actually brought her on the staff," he said. "From day one, it was apparent that she was excited to help in any way that she could  —  And those ways are countless. Jenni truly had a servant's heart. Jenni was the backbone for just about everything that was going on in the youth ministry while I was there. She is the one who did a whole ton of the hard work behind the scenes so that the stuff came off without a hitch."

Mason never liked to be in the limelight, Bowes said.

"There were times when I would want to recognize her and let everybody know this has been her hard work behind the scenes ... and she would shun that. She didn't like for the attention to be pointed her way," he said. "She was just very happy and doing what she knew needed to be done in order to make the overall thing happen, but the real reality is none of that could happen without her."

Through Jesse Lee, Mason went on many mission trips across the world, where she helped build churches and school buildings that were damaged from natural disasters, such as in Louisiana, Trinidad and Belize.

Mason kept a prayer journal and wherever she went — including mission trips to foreign countries, she would make entries in it. 

"Everybody would be hunkering down for the night and over there was Jenni, sometimes with the flashlight. Her act of prayer was basically writing a person's name of who she needed to pray for and what it was that was on her mind for prayer ... and that is the way that she ended every day, regardless of how long the day was or how tired she was," he said. "Her explanation that she gave to me was 'I can look back a couple of months ago and see the things I was praying about and now I understand how those prayers were answered.'"

'She always put people ahead of her'

Mason's daughter, Heather Mason, said growing up, her mother taught her  and her siblings about selflessness. 

"In my 32 years of my existence, she never once complained and would always go out of her way to ensure everyone was happy. Growing up, there was never something that we wanted that she didn't work as hard as she could to provide for us," Heather Mason said. "She has instilled all that in us."

She said her mother never said she was too busy too help anyone, no matter how full her schedule. 

"I would see her schedule and I couldn't imagine how she could fit more things on her plate. People will look at her and say, 'Are you sure. Jen? You're taking on a lot.' She would always say, 'I can always make room, not a problem' ... She was just there and it was like magic," she said.

Scott Mason agreed his wife "never tooted her own horn."

"She didn't brag about what she did. She never put herself first. She always put people ahead of her," he said, through tears. 

Heather Mason, who is getting married in November, said she and her mother "talked about me getting married since I was a little girl.  I tried on her wedding dress."

She said her mother is looking down on everyone now and playing music — "which she loved."

"Maybe something Michael Jackson-related or one of her favorite hymns.  Music was just such a vital role and for her she found such healing in it," Heather Mason said. "We sang at youth group, we sang at home, we danced at home, we listened to old records," she said.  "We took road trips, to  Disney to DC to Cape Cod to Pennsylvania. We drove everywhere and there was always music playing."

She added her mother would want others to make time to help others.

"When you think of my mom, remember that life isn't just about possessions," she said. "It's about the people in your life. My mother was always able to put herself in another person's shoes and to help others. Her plate was never too full."

A service of celebration for the life of Jennifer Mason will be 11 a.m., Sept. 24 at Jesse Lee United Methodist Church, 207 Main St. There will be a reception to follow in the Carriage House. There will be no calling hours.