Photograph of Gail Minsky

At the Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park.

Gail Minsky: Remembrances

This page contains remembrances of and stories about Gail Minsky. The family invites your additions. Please send email to Chip.

You also can leave comments at the guestbook.


from Margot Rivelis, Gail's daughter

Even though my mom lived on the west coast and I was on the east coast, we were always together. We would talk on the phone all the time. If I was stuck and had a question about anything I would call her. I'd often get a call from her while she was shopping. She'd find herself in the children's section of a store and she'd want to know my kids' sizes, or she'd found a top that made her think of me and wanted to know if I'd wear it.

Mom would visit three times a year. Every fall we would always get together to celebrate our birthdays. Mom's was the end of September and mine was the beginning of October. She'd come to High Holiday services with me and all my friends would have a chance to say hello. I was so proud of her. I loved having her around to shop with, eat with, go to the movies with. I enjoyed watching her kvell over my kids, celebrate holidays with us, cook with me (ok, more like watch her cook!) … and I enjoyed just being with her.

When I talked with Melissa and Sam about their Meema (their name for her) Melissa said she wished Meema could hear how good she was doing on her flute. Mom and Gary would always be planning their next trip: Egypt, China, Spain, Peru, Bermuda ... Recently mom decided to start bringing dolls back for Melissa from each of these trips. Melissa loved that "tradition" and it ended much too soon. Melissa already requested the next place she should visit: Korea. She has a friend who is adopted from Korea and Melissa asked Meema to go there and get dolls for herself and for her friend. Sam's words about Meema were simple: "She's really nice and kind. I like to play games with her." Meema tried hard to also do something special for Sam too. She knew he loves pandas so she brought a panda back from China for him.

Mom, I miss you!!!

from Chip Rosenthal, Gail's son

We search for purpose in our lives. Some find it through their children or their God. Others find it by volunteering and community. Some find it in butterflies or comic books or baseball.

I think my Mom found her purpose in serving people. She always seemed happiest when she was making other people happy. She built her many careers around serving people and bringing them pleasure.

Her first job I remember was a nursing home dietitian. That's the kind of job where you have to plan the daily menus for all the residents—and you probably have to do so on a very strict budget. I bet there is a lot of temptation to feed everybody boiled chicken and jello every day. I don't think Mom would have done that. I'm sure she made sure that the residents weren't simply fed, but well fed.

Later, she was a high school home economics teacher, and then a part-time gourmet caterer. I grew up thinking that in every household, the mom normally did stuff like make spaghetti from scratch (not just the sauce, I mean the noodles) and decorate wedding cakes because that's what our mom did.

In mid-life, she decided to formally study the art and science of serving people. She applied—and was accepted—to the masters degree program at the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration. This has always struck me as an extraordinarily bold move for a forty-something-year old woman, especially at that time. I've always been proud of her for that.

Later, we learned that she was admitted as a "Cornell legacy" student. That is, a student who continues a family tradition of attending Cornell. At the time Mom applied for admission, I was enrolled in the Cornell College of Engineering. She was my legacy. I don't seriously think she rode my coattails, but we—and the college administration I'm told—always got a kick out of that.

Mom was the ever-ready host. She was delighted when any out-of-town visitor, be it her son or a distant friend-of-a-friend, came to town. She delighted in showing them around, suggesting sights, and—best of all—recommending restaurants. San Francisco was the perfect city for Mom. It has so much great stuff to see and do—and eat!

When Juliette and I visited her last November, she helped us find the perfect hotels (including gifting us with a stay at the fabulous St. Francis on Union Square). When we were out on the town we'd call her at mealtime, sometimes three times a day. Each time she'd gladly give us a list of recommendations, and, of course, every place we ended up at was wonderful. (You can see some of Juliette's photos from that trip here.)

Mom was tremendously helpful and compassionate when I needed it most. But more than anything else, I could always share my joys and pleasures and successes, and they—reflected through her—would always be greater. I will miss that greatly.

from Andrea Hodos, Gail's niece

Gail was a model for me of someone who really lived life with a great combination of curiosity, determination and vitality. After her divorce, she joined all the young 'uns at the Cornell School of Hotel Management to start a second career. She got herself through school with great sacrifice, and went on to become an excellent manager in a number of different locations, settling in the SF Bay area. Gail always made enduring friendships wherever she went, and had the ability to get along with all kinds of people. As I understand it, one of the things that made her an excellent manager was that although she had a real sense of the "finer things" and held very high standards, she also had a real sense of people and was able to see them for who they were—across all kinds of social and class lines.

Gail loved good food, and she knew good food. During her second round of cancer, she lost her ability to taste for over a year. She also couldn't swallow, which made eating not only a chore, but sometimes uncomfortable. I went to visit her during this time, and I thought, "What can I do with Gail that will cheer her up?" Usually the answer was "go for a good meal". Without that as an option, I realized the close second was, "go shopping!" I don't love shopping (I hate shopping, actually), but I loved shopping with Gail. She had the best shopping karma of anyone I know. Of course she knew exactly which consignment shop to bring me to, and she took great joy in helping me organize my wardrobe for the year. One always finds bargains on really interesting things when one shops with Gail (although I sometimes get the clothes home and realize that they have a little more flair—or a little more flare—than I'm used to!) Gail often sees potential that others don't. This was true of her in many different ways.

Gail was a person of broad and uncommon perception and imagination. And she was always a steady and loyal friend and family member. One of my earliest memories of Gail is the time she made me a special cake for one of my earliest birthdays—it was a white and blue doll made completely from frosting, and it was the most beautiful and special thing I had ever seen . . . The last time I saw her was over the summer on a trip up to the Bay area. She treated me to dinner at "Millennium"—a top-notch vegetarian restaurant. We both, thank God, were able to enjoy a wonderful meal. We finished it by sharing some amazing vegan white chocolate mousse cake topped with blueberries in a lavender sauce. Who would even imagine that lavender could be a food?! Yum! I will miss her.

from Greta Cramer, Gail's cousin

Gail and I go back a very long time. She was the first baby I held and played with. Ours was a relationship that began when she was born, which grew and changed as we matured, each in our own way. As the years went by, we developed a close friendship—the friendship and respect that exists in spite of distance and age difference.

Gail was a cute little girl and I loved to play with her. As she grew, we did more "grown-up" things. One of her favorite games was playing "hair dresser". She would take my braids apart and comb and brush my hair, giving me a "new" look. We read The House of Seven Gables and Jack took us to tromp around in it.

Many is the time that Glena would call me to talk about Gail and the mother/daughter difficulties that would arise now and then. Gail was struggling for independence and Glena had difficulty with that. Letting go is a hard process sometimes.

There are many parallels in Gail's life and mine. (Perhaps that is why we were so close.) There was the divorce, the change of career and going back to school in our early forties, the success those changes brought ... and important in all of that was the fact that neither of our mothers could understand the need for the divorce, the need for leaving one job and going back to school, nor could they understand the choice we made of subject matter. Gail made her choice at Cornell, working with people and made a great impact in her career. I chose the Frostig School of Educational Therapy and have worked with children and adults, primarily in the field of dyslexia and teacher training.

We supported each other and that made the difficulties along the way somewhat easier for each of us.

Gail visited us here in Canada. We spent a day in St. Jacobs and Elora. I remember sitting on the steps at the Elora Gorge, listening to the river as it flowed by. We sat for a long time, enjoying the quiet of the land and reveling in this precious time we were having together.

Gail was a wonderful person in many, many ways. She was not only a wonderful cousin, but also an exceptional friend. She touched the lives of many people. The world will be a much sadder place without her.

from Sylvia Gordon, Gail's lifelong friend

Gail and I met when she was 9 and I was 10, both spending our first of many summers at Camp Somerset in Maine. We last met on Nov. 10th when she was 70 and I was 71, two months to the day that she died! Who could ever have imagined that this would have been the last time we would be together?? We had lunch at a wonderful new restaurant in Boston, wandered through the Boston Public Library attending an exhibit on the burning of books by the Nazi's at the outbreak of World War II, poked through the shops at Copley Place, had a belated birthday drink in the cocktail lounge at the Westin Hotel, and parted for our separate trains, laughing and joking and hugging, and already planning for the next time we would be together. For throughout our lives, there always was a next time.

We each referred to the other as "my bestest friend in the whole wide world", and indeed we were. We shared all life's events with each other, and were only a phone call away, even when she moved to San Francisco.

I wore my first pair of "high heels" at Gail's. We must have been going to a dance or on a date (you see, Gail would know which as she was our shared memory!), and I could not walk in these 1" heels, and I fell straight down the stairs in her house. We laughed over this then, and through the years.

During one of my many trips to San Francisco, Gail and I were walking to "my (hers) favorite Chinese restaurant" (these favorites changed often through the years). We stopped at the corner to cross the street, and before you could blink your eyes we wound up in a totally different restaurant!!! Neither of us could ever explain how this happened. We thought it was hilarious, and laughed over this every time we remembered it together. And, the new restaurant was so good, that we returned for another lunch before I left!!

Gail was my mentor in so many things. She helped me learn to sew, shared ideas about decorating and recipes, taught me what a food processor was (when they first came out) and got me one through the school where she taught home economics! This was a big deal in those days.

I always loved Gail's style in fashion, and it was a lifelong challenge for her to help me dress more fashionably. I would listen carefully to what she taught me, and before every trip to San Francisco as well as before our many dates in Boston I tried so hard to apply what I thought I had learned, but it never was right enough or good enough!!! Since her death, Margot asked me "who is going to dress you now, Sylvia?"

That truly is the question of the day, in so many areas!!

I was at Gail and Burt's the day they brought Chip home from the hospital as a newborn. We had hot dogs and beans for supper, and I stuck my finger into the sauce of the beans and put it into Chip's mouth, and did he ever suck on that juice. He loved it! Gail said "doesn't he look like a little chipmunk with those big cheeks?", and that's it as far as his name was concerned.

Gail and Gary and I traveled a lot together, all 3 of us in one motel room. More laughs!

This past year, Abba and I spent one week in San Francisco, staying with G&G (as she always referred to them). Both were so gracious to us, as they always were to me, and the four of us got along so well and had such a good time. Gail loved showing off San Francisco to Abba, and just a short while ago told me she found a whole new neighborhood of gorgeous Victorian houses she wanted to show us when we returned for another visit.

Gail called me on New Years Eve at midnight here to wish us a Happy New Year. I closed our conversation by telling her that I loved her, something I had never done before! And I did so love her: as a friend, as a sister, as a playmate, as a teacher, as a confidante. My heart is broken at the loss of my "bestest friend in the whole wide world."

from Natalie Dean, Gail's friend

My remembrances of Gail Minsky are relatively new—just since I moved to California in 1999. Her brother and wife, Janet and Herb Hodos are long-time friends of my twin sister and her husband who live in Massachusetts. When I moved from the east coast, I was given Gail's name as someone to contact. And I did. And subsequently we dined together, or had lunch together when she was doing her "secret" shopping in the East Bay. She often gave me recommendations about plays to see or movies to watch. And then, a year ago, she told me about her planned trip to China and asked whether I would like to go along. I jumped at the chance (Gail was wonderful at researching "travel on a budget") and we spent two weeks together on our China trip. When we were in a shopping mode while traveling, she spent a great deal of time and thought into purchasing meaningful gifts for her grandchildren—how dearly she loved them. And she often wore jewelry created by her daughter, Margot.

Just a week before Christmas we arranged to have lunch together in Walnut Creek and decided to meet at Nordstrom's. What a mistake that was because there were no parking spaces anywhere. By cell phone, we coordinated meeting elsewhere. She looked great that day—though according to her she was having a bad hair day. Nevertheless she was attractive and we commiserated on her being 70 and my like birthday soon to follow. She ate a tasty squash bisque which she invited me to share. After lunch she was off to Macy's to purchase 8 $80+ shirts for her (non-existent) twin brothers. How else could she rationalize buying doubles of 4 shirts to, probably, an astonished salesclerk. (I hope the clerk was working on commission.)

That was the last time I saw Gail and it is so difficult to conceive of her gone from my life. I hope she has "traveled" to a place of her dreams. She deserves no less.

Sheryl Kimes and Michael Johnson, Deans of the Cornell School of Hotel Administration

(View scan of letter from Cornell.)

Dear Gary,

We were deeply saddened and shocked to learn the news of Gail's tragic passing last week. On behalf of the entire Hotel School, we send our sincere condolences to you and your family.

Gail was a wonderful person who led a remarkable life. She came to the Hotel School in the middle years of her life, seeing to formalize her interest in serving people. Following her graduation, she became one of the most active members in the Cornell Hotel Society, taking on leadership positions that eventually would lead her to sit on the Executive Committee of the Society as Second Vice President for 2006.

Gail worked tirelessly for Cornell and for the Hotel School, raising money for scholarships, planning events and conferences, and increasing local membership to the Society. We also know of the wonderful relationships she had with fellow alumni in the San Francisco area, how she enjoyed being "everyone's mom" and her concern about finding spouses for single Jewish Hotelies in the areal

We both had the pleasure of spending time with Gail this past November during the New York Hotel Show at the Dean's leadership dinner and at the Society's General Membership Meeting. We know how much she was looking forward to her new leadership role with the alumni group. Gail was dearly loved and respected and will be missed by all those she knew and whose lives she touched.

Thank you for sharing Gail with us for these many years. Please know that our thoughts and prayers are with you and your family during these most difficult days.

Sheryl E. Kimes, Interim Dean
Michael D. Johnson, Dean-elect