Thursday, March 7, 2013

TOP STOR>>The legacy of a fighter, caregiver

By Cheri Dragos-Pritchard
19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

(Editor’s Note: Senior Airman Regina Agoha, 19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs, wrote a story about Mrs. Gayles in October 2012, highlighting breast cancer awareness and celebrating Gayles being a survivor for 11 years).

She cared for countless children over a 25 year span, she celebrated life with her husband and children for 52 years, and she survived cancer for more than a decade. It’s the latter of these that inspired her husband to preserve a part of what she cared so much about.

Laura Jean Gayles, a Child Development Center child program assistant, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001, and every year after she participated in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure and other awareness events. She told her husband, Dave Gayles, that someday she wanted to make a blanket out of all of the T-shirts she collected from these events.

Mrs. Gayles passed away Dec. 12, 2012, after a bout with pneumonia. She never did fulfill her dream of making that blanket.

“This was so unexpected,” said Dave Gayles. “I don’t know if I’ll ever get over it. But I wanted to give our children something to remind them of just how strong their mother was. These blankets are perfect reminders. She beat cancer, and most will remember her for her courageous and successful fight against breast cancer. She was a fighter and a care giver. She loved children.”

Dave Gayles, an Air Force retiree, has worked at the Jacksonville Community Center for several years, and four years ago that’s where he met Pat Evans, a retired school teacher, and her husband.

“My husband and I are retired and we go to the community center to get our exercise,” Evans said. “Dave was there to unlock the door for us every morning. We’ve developed a friendship over the years.”

Evans said she was surprised when she received a call from Dave asking her if she could make a blanket for him.

“I quilt as a hobby,” Evans said. “I’ve never taken T-shirts apart and made a blanket before. However, I was honored to do it. Once he brought them to me that was what I spent all of my time focused on. I managed to get them done in two days.”

Evans went on to say her daughter has survived cancer for the past nine years, so she understood the importance of his request.

Jean Gayles worked with the 3- to 5-year-old children at the Little Rock Air Force Base CDC for more than 25 years.

“I knew and worked with Jean for 25 years,” said Joyce Russell, a CDC child program assistant. “Jean was always a team player. She was known for giving a helping hand where ever it was needed. I knew making the blanket with her shirts was very important to her. She had planned to do it in the near future.”

Another co-worker, Janet Foster, is also a cancer survivor. She said Jean was there for her “every step of the way” when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. After her diagnosis she began taking part in the walk-a-thons and Jean “was like a mother to me,” Foster said.

Dave Galyles said he felt fortunate they took an extended vacation last summer. They were able to visit each state that held significant memories for the two of them. The state they met in, married in, conceived their children in and many other memories.

“The other trip Jean had planned was to go see our granddaughter compete in a cheerleading competition in Florida,” Dave tearfully explained. “She was sick when she left, but she was determined not to miss that event. It was so important to her. Sadly, she passed away four days after she returned from that trip. I just wasn’t prepared for the outcome. So, getting the blankets made was very important to me.”

Dave Gayles is saddened by, but satisfied with the blankets. “Knowing she’s not here to see the blankets, makes me very sad, but in the end I was able to help Jean achieve one more goal,” Dave said.

He went on to say the blankets are Jean’s legacy. They are remnants of her memory, and display her passion for life.

“This tragedy, Jean’s death, is a testimony,” Evans said. “We never know when our last day is, and we should always live our life like each day is our last.”

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