Jolene Christina McGregor, a St. Paul native who championed education and advocated for orphaned children, died unexpectedly during surgery in a New York hospital on Feb. 4. She was 39.
Her mother, Nancy Hall, said her daughter suffered from acute liver disease.
"She was well loved," Hall said. "She had a part of us that nobody else can fill."
McGregor graduated from Mounds View High School in 1998 and went to Montana State University, graduating in 2001 with a major in Spanish. At Mounds View she met her high school sweetheart, Mike McGregor. The two formed an unbreakable bond that led to marriage the summer of 2001.
Soon after, the McGregors moved to New York, where Jolene worked as a middle school math teacher for Teach for America. McGregor had a keen eye for boosting student achievement and reshaping underperforming school districts, said Mike. During her two-year stint with the organization, she acquired a master's degree in education from Pace University in New York. In 2003, she co-founded Mott Hall Academy 3, a preparatory middle school in the Bronx, which is one of the highest performing schools in the nation's largest school system, her family said.
She later moved to the tech world, where she was convinced she would have a bigger national reach to improve educational outcomes. In 2012, she began working for Teachscape, which was later bought by Frontline Education, a K-12 software company. There, she dedicated her time to ensuring that teachers and administrators had the right resources to improve student learning.
"She was a model employee, committed, hardworking, dedicated and really connected very much to the vision of Frontline and what we were trying to do to ultimately improve education, which was near and dear to her heart," said Bob Hawkins, Frontline Education's vice president of client success.
McGregor was successful in managing work and family life, her husband, Mike, said. She planned family trips, went to her kids' soccer games and followed her skiing passion with her family. She loved jazz music, played the piano and violin, and reveled in her time with family and friends during her frequent trips to Minnesota.
"She was amazingly in tune," Mike said. "She was truly a caring person."
Jolene and Mike first bonded over their love for international travel. Their footprints could be found in many continents, including Africa, South America and Asia. It was Ethiopia's history and culture, in particular, that captivated the couple and even inspired them to adopt internationally. With the help of many, including Dr. Jane Aronson, a global pediatric adoption specialist, they were able to travel to Africa and adopt their oldest child, Ashton Wondemu McGregor, when he was a toddler. They encouraged their son to retain ties with his birth country. When Aston — now 11 — was 5 years old, they took him back to Ethiopia to reconnect with his birth family. In 2010, McGregor gave birth to Helena, whose middle name, "Addis," comes from the name of Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa.
"It's a great loss to lose such a wonderful child advocate," said Aronson, founder of the Worldwide Orphans Foundation. "She was a beautiful human being who fiercely cared about the world."
In addition to her mother, her husband and her children, McGregor is survived by her father, Randy Hall of Arden Hills; and sisters Janelle Anderson of White Bear Lake and Julie Westly of Albertville.
A celebration of McGregor's life will be held at 1 p.m. on April 20 at LifePoint Church in Maplewood.