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Gillian Mary Shaw Munn

Posted: June 19, 2013 - 12:22pm
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Photo provided

Nov. 23, 1938-May 8, 2013

Gillian Mary Shaw Munn, 74, died on May 8, 2013, from cancer. The memorial service for Gillian is 6 p.m. Tuesday, June 25, 2013, at St. Augustines’ Episcopal Church, 619 Sterling Highway. The service will be followed by a reception and potluck dinner. If you have stories or pictures of Gillian, please bring them to share.

Gillian was born Nov. 23, 1938, in Leeds, Yorkshire, United Kingdom, to Norris Edward Shaw (Dec. 1, 1905-July 31, 1981)) and Olive Mavis Shaw (nee Ray, Aug. 6, 1911-June 18, 1996). Their parents came from Huddersfield, Yorkshire, and Over, Cambridgeshire, respectively.

Her father, Norris, worked all his life in Leeds as an insurance broker, starting as “office boy” at around 15 years old and eventually as a director. Her mother, Olive, never worked outside the home after marriage. They lived as a family in the Hyde Park area of Leeds until 1953,  when they moved to the Headingley area.

One trauma the family faced was the outbreak of World War II in 1939. While Leeds was not a major target (the main contribution of the city to the war effort was manufacture of military uniforms and blankets, although there were two assembly plants for tanks and Lancaster bombers on the outskirts), it did suffer air raids by the German bombers, and when the sirens sounded they had to get the children out of bed and shelter in the cellar of the house until the “all clear” siren sounded. 

Gillian was educated at Brudnell Junior School, Hyde Park and then at Lawnswood High School. She left at age 16 and attended Leeds College of Commerce for a course in shorthand and typing. She then joined Pearl Assurance Co. in Leeds as an office worker.

Eventually Gillian got a job as a ticket clerk in the Leeds office of British European Airways (eventually to become British Airways). It was while she was with BEA that she was able to take advantage of free or heavily discounted flights and became a travel lover. During a long weekend in Majorca in the Mediterranean, she met a U.S. Air Force lieutenant, Roger Gaal, a navigator on B-52 bombers, who was from San Francisco. This planted a seed in her mind and eventually she bought a one-way ticket on a cargo boat sailing from Glasgow to San Francisco, much to the chagrin of her parents. This was around 1963.

Once in San Francisco she got a job with TWA, again as a ticket clerk. This enabled her to come home quite frequently and for her parents to visit her three times.

In the early 1960s she married William M. “Bill” Munn; they divorced in 1985. She then began to attend church regularly, grew her collection of animals, fell in love with opera, and when fit she enjoyed walking and camping in the mountains. She always read a lot and visited the cinema. She developed a fascination with Alaska from her various visits there which culminated in her epic drive to Alaska to settle there. 

While in California, Gillian went to nursing school to become a registered nurse. Later, wanting to upgrade, she went to California State University at Hayward to get a bachelor of science in nursing. She worked at AltaBates hospital in Berkeley and then went into home health nursing. In the last years of nursing she went to patients’ homes all over the area.  As she began to have back and knee problems, she switched to coordinating patient care from an office through VNA, visiting nurses association.

Travel was a high priority in Gillian’s life. Her good friend and frequent travel companion, Penny James, could not recall exactly when she first met Gillian, but thinks it must have been in the early 1980s, perhaps 1983 if not before. Penny remembers that they met at St Albans Episcopal Church in Albany, Calif. Then one Christmas Gillian stopped by when Penny’s daughter Cait was quite ill. Gillian figured out that Cait had strep throat.

Gillian and Penny were friendly at first, but not real close. They were both married and busy in their respective lives. Gillian became very involved with cat shows and breeding. Then one day in 1998, Penny ran into Gillian outside a local travel agent’s office. She asked Gillian what she was planning and Gillian said, “I’m about to turn 60. I’ve always wanted to go to Alaska and I can’t find anyone who wants to go with me, so I’m going alone.” To which, Penny promptly said, “I’ll go,” thereby starting 15 years of incredible travel experiences together.

Penny remembers that Gillian was always up for another adventure. They travelled to Alaska by small ship, ferries, train and car. They had many great experiences. One of Gillian’s proudest moments was catching a 100-pound halibut while fishing out of Wrangell (which they visited several times). They also enjoyed going to Anan and watching the black bears up close.

Gillian visited Alaska twice with Earth Watch, studying otters. After one of those trips Penny met her in Anchorage and they drove to Homer, among other places. Gillian loved the town of Homer. One of the first things Gillian did after arriving in Homer was to locate St. Augustines’ Episcopal Church, and she loved it. In September, 2005, Gillian and Penny took a cruise on a small ship from Juneau to Vancouver. Since it was September all the tourist stores were having great sales, and Gillian loved to shop. Another special event for them was attending the Anglican Cathedral in Vancouver since they arrived there on a Sunday. They always visited Episcopal churches that they found on their trips. Along the way Gillian and Penny also went to the Arctic in 2006 and to Antarctica in January 2009. They always travelled on small ships (100 passengers or less) because Gillian abhorred the idea of giant ship travel.

Gillian also loved opera and they enjoyed an Elder Hostel trip to New York City where they visited the Met and other Broadway plays, as well as Ground Zero and other NYC sights. They enjoyed many operas and local plays. Gillian aspired to do some acting, but mostly for Gillian it was always about the animals — wild and tame. She was devoted to her beloved dogs and cats. When she was breeding cats, Penny would love to visit and enjoy kitties climbing all over her.

In the Spring of 2009, Gillian retired and planned her move to Homer. Her remaining cats were all quite old and she had two small dogs. One was named Tristan for an opera she had seen when she got him. Penny helped her pack her Subaru to its limits, then they headed off — north to Alaska, with nine cats and two dogs, 4,000 miles, and scorching heat. It was an incredible journey.

Almost immediately after her arrival Gillian became involved in the life of the community. She joined St. Augustines’ Episcopal Church and served as their senior warden in 2011 and became a licensed Lay Leader in 2012. From November 2010 to April 2012 Gillian served on the Library Advisory Board. She also was an active member of Homer Animal Friends.

In October 2012 Penny and Gillian planned a trip to Tanzania. Gillian wasn’t going to let “a little thing” like cancer stop her. She had really wanted to do the side trip to Rwanda to see the gorillas, but that was canceled. Then Penny was not able to go, so Gillian went alone. She later commented to a friend that if she had the energy and the money she would go again “in a heartbeat.”

Gillian is survived by her two brothers, Peter Ray Shaw (born Nov. 11, 1934), and Christopher Edward Shaw (born Oct. 12, 1948).

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