"Sometimes I remember seeing starlight fade
Back when life was still only a mystery
Wasn't it good, wasn't it bad?
Or the best you ever had?
But sometimes it was, oh, so sweet"
Oh, So Sweet by Gordon Lightfoot
In her customarily understated yet profound way, Gail Shawhan bid adieu to a life well-lived on November 16, 2020 after grappling with cancer for the preceding eighteen months. With her husband, Dave, and son, Kris, each holding a hand at her bedside, Gail imparted one last message that reflected who she was to the core - “Thank you. I love you.” - then peacefully closed her eyes.
There is, perhaps, no more fitting a final gesture for a woman who lived a life staunchly guided by her values: family, friends, faith, service, education, and purpose. Values that she not only demonstrated on a daily basis, but also imparted on her four sons, Josh, Ryan, Kris, & Matthew, and the countless students that graced her classroom over a 20-year career as an educator.
Gail’s values took root at an early age. Born February 26, 1948 to Vince & Peggy Bonfanti, Gail grew-up with abiding devotion to her Catholic faith. She attended Catholic school in Whittier, California with her two younger siblings, Robert and Mary, and formed bonds that would last a lifetime. Growing up in southern California during the 1950’s & 60’s, she was part of a world that surged forward. Orange groves that once covered her hometown were replaced by shopping malls and car dealerships - some of which her father designed as a prominent architect in the area. During her youth, she also saw monumental social change that presented opportunities that Gail was eager to explore.
And explore she did. During her 20’s, Gail traveled the west coast, and eventually found herself on a blind date on New Year’s Eve that she almost didn’t go on with a guy that nearly missed the rendezvous of a lifetime. Suffice it to say, the guy turned out to be great, the pair hit-it-off, and a short time later, a blind date turned into a family of six. Thank God for small miracles.
With the 1980’s flying by and her kids growing-up, Gail found herself longing to pursue a career that she was meant for - education. Cutting her own path, she went back to school in her early 40's, eventually graduating with the degree of Master of Arts in Teaching. This was no small feat. Not only was she raising four very active sons, she also waited tables during the evenings, in addition to studying, writing papers, and attending classes. The focus, energy, and drive to achieve her dreams is inspirational even now.
The dream became a reality in the mid-1990’s, but it was not easy. Like most things, it took perseverance. Substitute teaching turned into a full-time role at a junior high school, which then became a position educating children with special needs at a local high school. She flourished in this role as it allowed her to fully utilize her unique combination of teaching acumen, tenacious commitment, and savvy in connecting with kids that others couldn’t reach. She found herself in a situation that most people dream of - a career that spoke to her soul - and she earned it at every step of the journey.
By 2018, it was time to retire, so she joined Dave in his childhood hometown of Silverton, Oregon. Of course, that didn’t mean Gail slowed down. She soon became a volunteer advocate for at-risk kids while continuing her passionate pursuit of crafting in just about all its forms. During her time, the woman knitted enough blankets, socks, and scarves to outfit a small (and very comfortable) army. In fact, it’s a rare friend of her sons that does not lay claim to a quilt… or two. When she wasn’t working or crafting, you could find Gail reading one of the thousand books she finished, cheering on the Seahawks, or chatting-up one of her dear friends or family members.
When it came to Gail’s loved ones, her mindset was simple - if she loved you, then you were loved for life. No amount of time, distance, or history could deter her from caring for her people. Whether that included random text messages at all hours of the day, gifts delivered to your home because you once mentioned a need, or just the right advice just when you needed it, if Gail loved you, then she was going to show you.
Yet, as strong-willed and unrelenting as she could be, she rarely resorted to showy or heavy-handed declarations when it came to providing guidance. Rather, she wanted those close to her to know unequivocally that they were loved, to gently help them understand the world around them, and then let each individual choose their path in life. And that was the root of the marvelous grace Gail carried with her - the ability to shed pretense and ostentation to instead humbly deliver insight that resonated to your foundations. A light touch with an essential message. At once, elegant and profound - that was Gail. That was mom.
Gail relied on her grace and values as she faced cancer in her final years. Per usual, she took on the challenge and infrequently complained. She still treated people with kindness and focused on the blessings life delivered everyday. Her smile still made your day and her eyes still saw your heart. She was still the same inspirational woman she always was; and that is how she said goodbye - with inspiration and love. Thank you, Gail. We love you, too.
Ever the humble and thoughtful person, Gail requested no formal service or flowers. Instead, she would much rather the time, attention, and cost be redirected towards education improvement, a cause she cared for deeply. You can use the navigation menu above to donate or share a memory or tribute about Gail.
February 26, 1948
Saint Louis, Mo
November 16, 2020
Crafting - especially quilting, knitting, & crochet
Watching the Seahawks
Texting her sons... a lot. :)
Watching mystery shows
Reading - just about anything
Sending thoughtful gifts
Childhood: Whittier, Ca
Adulthood: Federal Way, Wa
Retirement: Silverton, Or
Resting Place: Mt Angel, Or
Music: Anything classical, Gordon Lightfoot, Fleetwood Mac
Food: Milano cookies
Weather: Thunder & Lightning
Holiday: Valentine's Day
City: Paris, France
Sons: Josh, Ryan, Kris, Matthew
Grandchildren: Katie, Jason
Parents: Vincent & Peggy Bonfanti
Siblings: Robert (Vince) & Linda (Mary)
"Nothing can beat neat and complete."
"Text me when you get home."
"God wants you to be a fully realized human being."
"Thank you. I love you."
Special Education Teacher - Todd Beamer High School
English Teacher - Sacajawea Middle School
Caring for her family
Living her faith
Nurturing her friendships
Doing good for others
Working hard at everything
Living with purpose & passion
The power of education