The first time I met Gerri Washburn she was taking one of her daily walks while pushing her toddler Traci, in a stroller. I was sitting under one of the big shade trees in my front yard watching my own daughters play. I shyly waved at Gerri who had already flashed me an inviting smile. She stopped and welcomed me to the neighborhood so I walked over to introduce myself. My own little girl, Catherine, who was about the same age Traci stood behind me taking in the conversation with great interest.
Gerri was a vibrant woman with honey colored hair and an inviting countenance punctuated with an ever present smile. There was a warmth and a twinkle in her eyes as she chatted away as though we had been friends forever. I liked her immediately but our two little ones were not so sure that they wanted to be playmates. They eyed each other with suspicion and I wondered if they would ever be comfortable enough to become friends. Gerri on the other hand was certain that if we set a date their natural curiosity would overcome their shyness. With great enthusiasm and reassurance she invited me to come to her home the following day to get the process started. I knew immediately that Gerri was someone who understood how to get things done.
At first neither Traci nor Catherine was willing to make a move toward one another. Not to be dismayed, Gerri sweetly suggested that they go play in Traci’s room. We escorted them to an enchanting haven of color and joy that disarmed both girls enough that they began to explore the toys and games and books that lined the shelves while Gerri and I quietly left them to become acquainted without our watchful stares. I marveled at Gerri’s confidence and wisdom as I soon heard Traci and Catherine laughing and giggling mischievously.
Gerri was a bit older than I was but she had retained the energy and blissfulness of a younger woman. She had an incredible knack for doing everything exceedingly well. Her home was so beautifully decorated that it might have been featured in a magazine. Nonetheless it had the feel of comfort and warmth that told me that it was a place meant to be enjoyed. I would learn over the years that Gerri’s door was always open to anyone who needed a good laugh or a shoulder on which to cry. She had more devoted friends than anyone I had ever known and I marveled at how she always had time for all of us no matter what else was happening in her life.
Gerri had grown up in Pasadena, Texas and she was a Texas gal through and through. She picked up lifelong friendships wherever she went starting with her days in elementary school and Sundays at church. She eventually became a teacher which suited her creative and compassionate personality well. Her students would remember her with great fondness even decades after she had retired from the classroom. When I met her she had left the world of education for a time to start a business of her own that became as successful as virtually everything that she attempted to do. She had an infectious way of making anything seem possible. Her motivational skills were so remarkable that I always left her ready to fearlessly take on the world.
Over time Catherine and Traci became the best of friends and Gerri and I became their two moms. They went back and forth between our houses and we never thought twice if one of them showed up for dinner or stayed for the night. We just set an extra plate without question and smiled at the thought of having so much extra happiness in our homes.
Before long Catherine and Traci were going to school together. I would watch both of them in the afternoons before Gerri came home from work and in the summers when they were on vacation. Gerri had a swimming pool in her backyard so she gave me a key to her house so that we would have access to it on hot summer days. Her only caveat was that I should never allow the girls to swim alone even though they were as confident as porpoises in the water. Sometimes Gerri’s older daughter, Robin, would join us and I got to know her almost as well as Traci.
At one point we considered moving to a larger home but Gerri talked us out of it and sent her cousin to our house to propose a renovation that would provide us with the extra space that we needed. It turned out to be a beautiful compromise that allowed us all to stay together on what I always thought was the friendliest street in America. Once again Gerri had spun her magic. Somehow she always seemed to know what to do and when to do it.
Gerri was warm and loving but also sassy and fun. She liked to dance and cut up and laugh with total abandon. It was difficult to feel morose around her because she was an eternal optimist. She was also a warrior who fought for the underdog and the less fortunate. She would not take no for an answer or give up on anyone. Gerri’s house was always a safe place for those in need of a friend.
Gerri suffered from severe arthritis just has her mother had. There were times when she was in such great pain that it was difficult to even move but she rarely complained. Catherine and Traci would make a game of cleaning her house and doting on her the way she had always doted on them whenever she was having difficulty moving her limbs. She made even difficult times somehow seem like fun as she would joke and laugh even as we knew that she was hurting.
We took Traci camping with us and Gerri took Catherine to Hawaii. She had an unbounded generosity that everyone who knew her experienced in one way or another. When Catherine was getting married she hosted a lovely bridal shower for her and went all out with decorations and food. She seemed to love celebrations and we felt so special when we attended them. In fact, even when she hosted a big party she somehow made each of us who came feel as though we had been the guest of honor. It was just one more of her many many talents.
Gerri had many serious health issues in the last couple of years in addition to her arthritis but she pushed herself to keep entertaining and traveling. Her heart was as big and wonderful as ever even as she suffered a series of strokes. She clung to the joy of life like a warrior but eventually she had to go to a rehabilitation center. Making the most of her situation as usual she was as delightful as she had ever been. When Covid-19 isolated her we got updates on her health from her two daughters. She was a fighter to the very end, inspiring all of us with her wit and determination to eke every possible drop of happiness out of this life.
The world was a far better place with Gerri Washburn in it. There is a great void in her passing but her silent suffering is over. Heaven has gained another angel who no doubt will watch over us as vigilantly as she did when she was alive. All of us who knew her will miss her. She was unique, one of the true greats. Now her pain is gone and she is smiling with the angels.