Jean B. Tullai, a familiar figure for generations of students at St. Paul’s School in Brooklandville, where she held positions that ranged from running its switchboard to managing its bookstore, died Wednesday from bone cancer at her Lutherville home. She was 87.
“Jean was absolutely dedicated to St. Paul’s. If they needed something, she’d always do it,” said Skip Darrell, a St. Paul’s graduate and longtime math teacher and coach.
Jean Beletsky was born and raised in Alden, Pa. She was the daughter of William Beletsky, a coal miner, and Anna Beletsky, a homemaker.
After graduating at age 16 from Newport Township High School, she worked as a secretary for the owner of a Wilkes-Barre hardware store.
In 1949, she married her high school sweetheart, Martin D. “Mitch” Tullai, and in 1953 the couple moved to Brooklandville when her husband began teaching history and coaching football and basketball at St. Paul’s.
The couple lived on campus at a time when the school still had boarding students. Faculty and students routinely ate together in a “white-tablecloth dining room,” family members said.
“She was like a second mother to the boaders,” said Mr. Darrell, who noted that he had known the couple for 64 years. “They came ... in 1953 and I had started a year earlier as a fifth-grader. I later taught at the school and coached with Mitch, lived on campus, and our kids grew up together.
“I went to see her not long ago and she recalled a middle school dinner. … She said I never shut up,” Mr. Darrell said with a laugh.
Mrs. Tullai lived on campus for 35 years before moving to Lutherville. She held and fulfilled a variety of jobs at St. Paul’s “between having kids,” she was fond of saying.
She operated the old-fashioned plug-board telephone switchboard, oversaw the middle school bookstore and, in her spare moments, planted saplings that have now become towering trees.
“She was always so cordial and gracious,” said Charles W. “Charley” Mitchell, an author and historian who is director of alumni relations at the school and a member of its Class of 1973.
“She was very bright and had a great sense of humor. She always had a twinkle in her eye,” Mr. Darrell said. “She had the ability of always making you feel special.”
Because her husband was a lacrosse official, Mrs. Tullai served as executive secretary to the regional lacrosse commissioner of the Southern Lacrosse Officials Association. Family members said she organized referee assignments using paper, pen and a black rotary telephone, rather than spreadsheets and text messages.
For her work with the lacrosse association, she was presented a special appreciation award several years ago.
Krista Kessel of Pikesville, a professional caregiver and friend, began working with Mrs. Tullai four years ago after she broke her hip. She said Mrs. Tullai had “an amazing sense of humor that reached out and grabbed you. She really loved her life at St. Paul’s, and spoke of those times very proudly and happily.”
Mrs. Tullai enjoyed attending St. Paul’s football games and following local lacrosse. She also followed Duke University basketball and international tennis. In addition, she liked playing Scrabble and gardening.
She loved raising her four daughters. Family members recalled how she drew cartoons on lunch bags and played badminton and ping pong with her daughters and their friends. She had studied painting and drawing and was still cartooning until the end of her life.
Mrs. Tullai was a communicant of Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church in Towson.
Funeral services will be held at 10 a.m. Tuesday at Ruck Towson Funeral Home, 1050 York Road.
In addition to her husband of 68 years, Mrs. Tullai is survived by daughters Brenda Martin Hanlon of Lutherville, Jaye Ann Tullai of Houston and Kim Marie Todd of Traverse City, Mich.; three grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. Another daughter, Lisa Jean Dreano, died in 2015.