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Jacqulin and Preston Gunning, 93, die five days apart

“My mom was calling him, telling him to come. That’s what he did,” said their son, Calvin Gunning. “They’re where they’re supposed to be — together.”

Calvin and Jacqulin Gunning, high school sweethearts, renewed their wedding vows in 1999 to celebrate their 50th anniversary.
Calvin and Jacqulin Gunning, high school sweethearts, renewed their wedding vows in 1999 to celebrate their 50th anniversary.Read moreCourtesy of the Gunning Family
  • Jacqulin Gunning, Preston Gunning Sr.
  • Both 93 years old
  • Worked in Camden schools
  • A retired school administrator and his wife, a former teacher

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When Jacqulin Gunning died of COVID-19, her children decided not to inform Preston, her husband of 71 years, who didn’t have any symptoms. Five days later, he also died of the virus.

The couple, both 93, retired Camden educators, were inseparable, said their son, Calvin. It would have been difficult for his father to carry on without his high school sweetheart.

Unable to visit their father in an assisted living facility where he was quarantined in Florence, S.C., the family didn’t want the staff to break the news, either, he said. But they believe their father, who suffered from dementia, realized his wife had slipped away on Dec. 12, he said.

Within an hour of her death, Preston Gunning began to decline, and that day he tested positive for the coronavirus, he said. He stopped eating and his sister called and advised, “Dad isn’t doing well.”

“In his heart, in his mind and his soul, he knew. No one had to tell him,” said Calvin Gunning, a retired principal. “I think the day my mom died that’s the day my dad died.”

Gunning said the family began making funeral arrangements for his mother. When he got the call on Dec. 17 that his father had died, he was almost relieved.

“My mom was calling him, telling him to come. That’s what he did,” said Gunning.“ They’re where they’re supposed to be — together.”

The couple met in Harrisburg, where they grew up and attended public schools. They married on March 17, 1949, and had three sons and a daughter.

For most of their lives, they were rarely apart, except during World War II when Mr. Gunning joined the Army at age 18 in 1945, their son said. His father served in Japan and received an honorable discharge as a sergeant three years later.

After the military, Mr. Gunning used his G.I. benefits to attend Cheyney State College, graduating in 1951. He was a standout in track, basketball, and football and was inducted into the school’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1985. He also was a member of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity.

He taught briefly in Virginia, before relocating his young family to Camden in 1958. He began his career in the city schools as an industrial arts teacher at Woodrow Wilson High School.

During his tenure, he was also a guidance counselor and coach. He moved to administration, served as an assistant superintendent and became one of the first Black business administrators in the district.

He helped hold the administration’s line during a 1978 strike by teachers, clerks, and secretaries that lasted two weeks, said Lola H. Moore, one of the union leaders who was jailed for defying a court order to end the walkout.

“He was a straight shooter,” said Moore.

Shortly after Mr. Gunning retired in 1990, he was asked to return as interim superintendent when then-schools chief Arnold Webster was elected Camden mayor. He was succeeded two years later by his good friend Roy J. Dawson.

“He was a true educator,” Dawson said. “He always helped people.”

Mrs. Gunning obtained a bachelor’s in education from Virginia Union University. She spent 32 years in Camden schools as a first-grade teacher and reading supervisor. She was a life member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority.

Both were longtime members of Kaighn Avenue Baptist Church in Camden. Mr. Gunning, a baritone, sang with the choir and was a deacon. His wife was a deaconess, Sunday school teacher, and Sunday school superintendent.

In 1999, the couple renewed their vows for their 50th anniversary. In a Facebook post, the Rev. William Heard, the church’s pastor, said they “were a power couple long before the phrase was chic.”

After retirement, they left Cherry Hill and lived in Jim Thorpe, Pa.; Lakeland, Fla., and Virginia Beach before relocating to Florence, S.C., to live near their daughter. Calvin Gunning said his parents maintained their independence and enjoyed traveling.

“They did what they wanted to do,” he said. ”I’m so happy that neither had to suffer the other’s loss.”

The couple was predeceased by sons Preston Gunning Jr. and Jeffrey Gunning.

In addition to their son, Calvin, they are survived by a daughter, 10 grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren, and a host of other relatives and friends. Mrs. Gunning is also survived by sisters Jean Beasley, and Brenda Taylor.

A viewing will be held Tuesday from 4 to 8 p.m. at Carl Miller Funeral Home, 831 Carl Miller Blvd., Camden. A graveside service will be held at 1 p.m. Wednesday at Berlin Cemetery.