Debbie Bates was born on October 18, 1954 to Helen and Stanley Jennings in Bound Brook, NJ. She was the youngest of five siblings. She grew up watching The Mickey Mouse Club, which brought her immense joy, and introduced her to her first true love, the one, the only, Mickey Mouse.
Unfortunately, her mother died when Debbie was just 15 years old. This defining life event put her on a trajectory filled with trials and errors, hilarious highs and devastating lows.
At 17, she left high school and obtained her GED. Over the years, she worked a variety of factory jobs. But class by class, she earned her Associates Degree and later her Undergraduate Degree. (One of the factory jobs involved boxing individual wet wipes, which led to her family having wet wipes available well into the late 1990s.)
In 1982 she married Anthony “Tom” Bates. In 1985 they welcomed their first child, Amanda. And just one month later, Debbie earned her Masters in Social Work from Rutgers University, Advanced Standing, no less. Their second child, Helen, arrived in 1986, but she died shortly after birth. Their third and final child, Tony, arrived in 1988.
Within months of welcoming Tony to the world, she lost two very close friends, one to AIDS-related illness. This led her to become a Social Worker at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, NJ within their newly created Pediatric AIDS program. She also began volunteering with the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt with their Central New Jersey Chapter. Through this tough, emotional, and meaningful work, Debbie made lifelong friendships, and also suffered incredible losses.
After a few years, she transitioned from working within the Pediatric AIDS program to being the hospital’s sole Trauma Social Worker, where she remained until 2007. Well, minus a one-year blip where she left Trauma, went to orthopedics, “got bored,” and came back to Trauma.
While in NJ, she participated in Amanda’s and Tony’s activities, dance classes, sports, hobbies, and everything in between. She enjoyed taking Tap classes as an adult at Kathleen’s Academy of Dance, where she made wonderful friendships. She loved pork roll and cheese sandwiches, Grey Goose, and throwing her annual Christmas Party.
In 2007, she relocated to Florida so she didn’t have to deal with that “white stuff,” aka snow, anymore. But we all know it was to be closer to her first love, Mickey Mouse. Debbie truly enjoyed her time in central Florida. Between trips with Tom to Disney and Daytona for NASCAR, and the occasional girls-only weekends on the Gulf Coast, she was set. She also discovered chocolate martinis and was a tad obsessed with them for a while.
In Florida, she continued to work within a hospital setting as a Social Worker for several years until she transitioned to a Social Work position within the Veterans Administration (VA). She later returned to hospital Social Work until the COVID-19 pandemic, when she finally retired in 2020.
In 2015, Debbie received a frighteningly rare cancer diagnosis. Her case was accepted by MD Anderson in Houston, TX who gave her, and all of us, an extra 7.5 years beyond the initial prognosis. Debbie’s cancer diagnosis and treatment journey was a small part of her life here on Earth, but it took her from us far too soon on July 27, 2023.
She did not take a moment for granted. Debbie loved her family and friends fiercely and deeply, she welcomed everyone with open arms (except Minnie Mouse, if you know, you know), and made every single day count. She was kind, warm, hilarious, protective, and patient. She was the best wife, mom, sister, aunt, cousin, niece, friend, colleague, cheerleader, advocate, Social Worker, ziti-maker, hug-giver, and all-around super hero you could ask for.
She is survived by her husband Tom, her daughter Amanda (and her boyfriend Chris), her son Tony (and his girlfriend Morgan), and Tony and Morgan’s baby on the way. Her first grandson, Collin, tragically preceded her in death in 2022.
She is incredibly loved and desperately missed by many, many friends and her family. If you see a rainbow, it’s Debbie saying hello.