Jon Gail, An Extraordinary Life
By Harvey Gail, Jon’s older brother, given at the memorial service for Jon Gail, August 7, 2017. Jon died of a heart attack at 10:38 pm, on July 21. His memorial service was held in Memorial Park in Wilsonville, OR on August 7 at 10 am. Over 500 people attended the service. I was one of the speakers. Here are my comments.
On July 21, Jon’s hearth stopped and he was gone. They said his heart was simply broken. Now mine is.
I saw him one last time. As I held his hand I told him he was an amazing brother, a wonderful father and husband to Bonnie, and a friend.
Jon’s extraordinary life came to an end that night and we are all left to try to make sense of it all. So here goes.
As his brothers, we had a unique perspective. We were a product of the 1970’s, when kids just ran around outside, and did stupid stuff. Our home was the woods, the orchard, a river and our escape was on skateboards, bikes and skis.
Jon was the not quite middle kid… not the smallest, not the oldest, so he always wanted to be a part of what everyone else was doing. He always wanted others to be included, he wanted to help, not be left out.
Jon was probably envious of his older brothers. That, based on the observation that that he was always right there asking, what’s going on? Well, were washing the dog, want to help? So, 7-year-old Jon Charles Gail was given a bottle of Joy soap and a brush and sent into the kennel with the 100-pound St. Bernard. Instructions: dump on the soap and brush him off. Don’t worry, I’ll hose him off. To keep the dog from running away and Jon from quitting, we put them both in the kennel. Eventually Jon opened the kennel door and let a giant ball of soap scamper off into the orchard to roll in the dust. Soaked and freezing, Jon enthusiastically ran to tell the housekeeper the dog was clean and could finally be allowed into the house.
When we were kids, Jon wanted to be part of our little clubs. We had a lot of clubs. One, called the roofengoat club allowed kids access to the roof at the house in Newberg (sorry Dad). Like all the clubs, there was some kind of entry fee or initiation required. So, when Andy wanted to be part of the club Riley DeBenedetti and I told him he could be in the club if he ran around the house naked and made us peanut butter and mayonnaise sandwiches. So, he did and as Andy was running around the house naked, there, about 10 yards behind and running as fast as he could was Jon Gail, also naked but not knowing why he was doing it. It just looked like fun.
I have to believe these little incidents, that only a brother could provide, added to Jon’s character. When we climbed trees and roofs, he did, and sometimes fell out. I’m positive sending little Jon Gail out in the first wave of kids for our Annual Wolves and People game sharpened his character in some way. When we built a fort, he wanted to help.
When we played soccer so did Jon, eventually very well. He played way better than his older brothers, and was a role model for Peter growing up. Jon coached dozens of kids. He loved the Portland Timbers. Yesterday at the Timbers game, the Timbers Army paid tribute to one of their own. A salute to Jon Gail and the beautiful game.
Then, as in all families, we kids started to drift off to whatever we were doing. I went off to college at the U of O and when I came back Jon had grown up. Then our friendship began. Maybe it was during those summers when I was home. Maybe it started on that trip to USCD in La Joya. Probably on that all-nighter in TJ. I met Bonnie back then and I immediately knew they would be together forever.
Jon and I have done so many things together. Fishing in Alaska, a trip to the world cup game against Brazil at Stanford stadium, dozens of Timbers games. U of O football games, the Rose bowl, and an epic trip to the Ducks national championship game driving across the Arizona desert. Cabin trips, kids’ birthday parties… family stuff.
During all these times, after the giggling, laughs, impressions and jokes settled down, I learned about the extraordinary life Jon had. He has a beautiful family. He had an impactful career. He helped countless people own a home for the first time, including our older brother Barney. He helped build confidence in people that they could do it. He developed programs to help people. He launched a website to help people buy homes for the first time.
And here in this beautiful park, I see how Jon helped the City of Wilsonville be a home to people. That was Jon Charles Gail. Wanting to be part of something. Wanting to build family, to inspire community.
Jon’s extraordinary life came to an end two weeks ago. But his heart never really stopped, it beats in all of us. His heart lives on in his wife and sons, his family and friends, and his community. His contagious optimism and love are still present. While we are all deeply saddened by his passing, know that we will get through this day and remember Jon Gail as an example of humanity at its best.
# # #