Not long after I started working at Robert Morris University, I had a meeting in John Jay Center. John Jay? That’s a strange name for a building, I thought. Actually, in my head, which always has a song queued up like some mental jukebox, I began singing “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt,” a song that had been pounded into my brain back in elementary school. This is just how my mind works. It’s exhausting.
Originally built in 1965 as an athletic facility, John Jay Center was RMU’s primary indoor athletic venue until the Charles L. Sewall Center opened in 1985. Today, the gymnasium is used solely for intramural sports. The rest of the building is home to the SchoolEngineering, Mathematics, and Science of , and the School of Nursing and Health Sciences, and includes several high-tech classrooms and laboratories. Pete Pezzin, director of construction and maintenance for RMU’s Office of Facilities Planning, told me that the building was renovated in 2005, and included the addition of a new wing and laboratory.
The building’s namesake, John Jay (1745-1829), was the eighth of 10 children (and the sixth son) born to pious Calvinists Peter Jay and Mary Van Cortlandt. At just 15 years old, Jay entered New York’s King’s College (Columbia University), where he studied law and graduated with honors in 1764. After that, he became a law clerk for Benjamin Kissam and was admitted to the Bar of New York in 1768.
Jay’s storied political career spanned 27 years. In 1774, he served as a member of the New York Committee of Correspondence, and also as a delegate to the Continental Congress. In 1777, he became a member of the New York Constitutional Convention and the state’s first Chief Justice. The following year he was elected as president of the Continental Congress, and over the next several years, he served as Minister to Spain (1779), one of the peace commissioners for the Treaty of Paris (1782-83), Secretary of Foreign Affairs (1784), a contributor to The Federalist Papers (1788), and negotiator of the Jay Treaty (1794). Jay is probably most known as the First Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court (1789-1795). And as governor of New York (1795-1801), he signed a law in 1799 that emancipated all slaves in the state. That’s quite a resume, by any standards.
So there you have it: the second stop on RMU’s “Tour de Names.” Stay tuned as we continue to reveal the people behind the names of the university’s many buildings and facilities. Now that I know more about John Jay the man, I understand why they chose his name for this important building. Besides, “The John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt Center” would be too wordy.
Now I just have to figure out how to get that blasted song out of my mind.
—Valentine J. Brkich
John Jay Links