Long-time former Vashon resident, Gael Ann Varsi, passed away on May 27th. Gael lived in Anacortes in a lovely old house overlooking the Guemes Channel with her beloved son Jesse and their two wonderful dogs, and surrounded by bountiful flower and vegetable gardens. She also leaves behind her fine 19-year-old grandson, Aiden.
During her time on Vashon, Gael was known for her skills at pruning fruit trees for maximum harvest and beauty, and for shaping and restoring neglected ornamental bushes.
She always had a heart for badly pruned trees, and supported Seattle’s Plant Amnesty group. On Vashon Gael was known by many and loved by a few enduring friends.
Gael was born in San Mateo, California, in 1940. She spent many summers in Oroville in NE Washington, with her mother Beatrice’s family. She was especially fond of her cousin Patty, who remained a treasured friend. Gael’s father Russell also took the family to Bolinas on the California coast where her paternal grandfather had been mayor.
Gael’s sister, Diane, became an actress and was nominated for an Academy Award for her role in the movie Peyton Place. Diane passed in 1992, and left behind her son Shawn and daughter Willo Housman, who was always Gael’s NorthStar, endless support, and trusted confidant.
In 1960 Gael received her BA in Philosophy at the University of Washington. In 1994, after much life experience, Gael received her Masters Degree Urban Horticulture from the University of Washington. Her Masters Dissertation was A Maintenance-management Plan for the Joseph A Witt Winter Garden at Washington Park Arboretum.
As a young woman and recent college graduate, Gael married into the beat generation of San Francisco, pairing with a poet and then an artist from the Alan Ginsberg-Lawrence Ferlinghetti culture of the early 60s. Gael also worked in San Francisco as a community organizer.
In 1970, Gael moved with her little son, Jesse, to the small peaceful Upstate NY town of Woodstock. After the 1969 Woodstock Festival (which had borrowed the name of the small town of Woodstock located 1½ hours away from the festival location) was over, a large number of untethered youth who had attended or heard about the Woodstock Festival, mistakenly came and stayed in this small town, hoping to find some of the magic of the festival for themselves. At a town meeting, some Woodstock residents voiced concerns about the dozens of disaffected youth who had no means of feeding or housing themselves. Some also offered temporary housing in their homes. Gael spoke up to offer her phone number to be a coordinator for community support. Gael soon helped create a non-profit crisis intervention organization called Family to answer that need. With the help of Alex Merson, Peter Blum, and many others, some of whom became her life-long friends, this organization is still flourishing today, serving three counties in upstate New York.
Gael had found her way to Vashon in 1977, living in Dockton and working as a specialist gardener. She also was proficient at growing vegetables and extraordinary cannabis.
In 2000, Gael was part of the original effort to clean up and restore the newly-purchased Mukai Gardens site, and had diligently followed its progress through the troubles to its current glory.
The following are some of the extraordinary gardens where Gael has worked during and after her years on Vashon:
Mendocino Botanical Garden in Fort Bragg, CA, with a special interest in the fern collection and optimum placement of native species
Kubota Gardens in South Seattle in its early restoration to a unique Japanese public garden
Carl S English Gardens at the Hiram Chittendem Locks, a stately traditional garden
Berry Botanical Gardens in Portland, OR, with a special interest in greenhouse propagation, hardy primula, and the collection of tiny alpine succulents
Gael moved to Anacortes in 2001, where she continued to study and learn, taking classes in Human Services and staying active helping elders at the local Senior Center. She also volunteered for the Anacortes Public Market and the newly created Time Bank. Gael never lost her interest and passion for political causes and was up to date on all current affairs, with an ability to express strong well-voiced clear-cut opinions alongside an impassioned desire for justice in the world.
A celebration of remembrance will be held on Sunday, May 23rd, at 2:00 pm at a private home on Vashon. Please call Barbara at 206-463-3418 if you would like to attend. Thank you for your friendship with Gael.