by Paula Malone
Eileen was destined to be an amazing mother. The eldest daughter of 10 children, she was born Eileen Theresa Marie on April 30, 1932 in Penetanguishene, Ontario, Canada to Albertine and Albert Gauthier. She joined her two older brothers, Ernie and Russell. The little family of five began to grow when Sylvia was born, four years later. She was followed by Lloyd then Stan. Sadly, when Lloyd was just a toddler, he was tragically killed in a vehicle accident. He was like Eileen’s baby, and she and the family mourned him deeply. The family then moved to Sudbury, where Lorraine was born, and Grandpa Gauthier worked in the coal mines. Finally, the family moved to Hamilton, where Sharon, Paul and Jim were born, and the Gauthier family was complete.
At just about 20, Eileen met a tall, dark, handsome man named Bob at a dance in Hamilton. Robert John Gerry was born and raised in Hamilton (on “the mountain”), primarily by his Grandma Robinson, along with his sister June and brothers Jim, Kenny and Roger. He went to school to learn to be a printer, so he would always have a trade – this turned out to be a really good plan. Bob and Eileen were married in 1953 (she was 21 years old) in a small ceremony in Hamilton by a Justice of the Peace. Sadly, since Bob was a Protestant, and not Catholic, Grandma and Grandpa did not attend the wedding. However, her brother Russell and his wife Vera, along with good friend Don McClure and his wife, joined them in their celebration. Eventually, Grandma came around and Bob was accepted into the family. It didn’t hurt that he made Mom very happy, and he loved a good dance party, which the Gauthier’s were quite fond of as well.
Soon after they married, they decided on a new adventure, and boarded a train to California with Bob's childhood friend, Gerry Goodwin, his wife June, as well as Gerry's brother Bert and his wife, Betty.
They fell in love with the California lifestyle and lack of snow shoveling and decided to become U.S. citizens. At the time, under Canadian law, they had to give up their Canadian citizenship. In a tragic twist of fate, shortly after arriving in sunny California, Bob was drafted into the Army due to the Korean War and was sent to Alaska for two years – welcome to the U.S. of A.! Bob suggested that Eileen go home to Canada to be with her family while he completed his military orders. But, after following him to Fort Sill, Oklahoma for boot camp, she bravely boarded a tiny single engine plane by herself and flew to Anchorage, after putting all of their belongings in storage.
Being a married couple, they lived just off base in a (very tiny) trailer. It was challenging to make ends meet on Bob’s salary as a Private, but soon Eileen got a job as a bookkeeper for the Air Force, which meant they didn’t have to eat quite as many Canned Rations (affectionately referred to as C-Rats….which pretty aptly describes these Army-provided meals, according to Mom). Soon, with the added income, they bought a '57 Chevy and a little dog, and it was good times once again for the newlyweds.
Returning to California, they rented an apartment in Downey, then eventually bought a little house in Garden Grove. Eileen’s sister Sylvia had moved to California by then, with her husband Bernie and their three daughters, so in addition to her sister, they continued to enjoy life with their "California Family", including Donna and Leary Sonn, June and Gerry Goodwin, Janice and George Scott, Pete and Betty Pilling, Paul and Betty Medley, Bev and Pete Irwin, The Ripleys and the Abbott clan, and many more wonderful friends who helped Eileen not be quite so homesick. During this time, Bob bought a motorcycle, which he regularly rode with Paul Medley, and they parked a trailer up in Big Bear, where the California Family spent many weekends together year round.
As all of her friends were starting their families, Eileen wanted nothing more than to have a baby of her own. After twelve years and a few sad losses, Eileen and Bob decided to adopt. It wasn’t long before the doctor called and told Eileen that a beautiful baby girl had arrived, just for her. Her girlfriend June took her to the hospital to get her first peak at this little bundle – and according to Eileen, she fell in love. They named their new baby Paula Marie. Although she only weighed 5 pounds, 13 ounces, with Eileen’s motherly experience and loving attention, she fattened that baby up quickly! Eileen’s mother and father made their first trip to California to visit this new baby, which brought so much joy to Eileen (Grandma loved her babies!). They took Albert and Albertine to San Juan Capistrano Mission and to Catalina Island.
Then, in another turn of fate, six months into fatherhood Bob landed in the hospital following a serious motorcycle accident. Despite being well protected (full leathers, heavy boots, helmet, etc.), Bob suffered two broken wrists, several broken ribs, and a completely shattered leg, resulting in four months of traction and a body cast. Eileen was not working at the time, and with Bob out of work, they were blessed when good friends Paul and Betty Medley moved into their home in Garden Grove to help Eileen and Bob pay their mortgage (and of course, keep Eileen company and help around the house). As Bob began to feel better, the doctors would periodically wheel his hospital bed outside, where he would feed Paula her bottle, and occasionally sneak some beers with his visiting buddies. Clearly his doctors understood the value of friends in the healing process!
One year after the birth of their daughter, Bob and Eileen had to appear before a judge to finalize the adoption. Eileen tells the story of being so scared when they appeared that morning for the hearing. Bob was out of work, he was on crutches and just learning how to walk again, Eileen wasn’t working and….oh yeah, she was 6 months pregnant! But, as she tells the story, the judge took one look at how healthy and happy Paula was, clearly extremely well taken care of and well loved, and he easily finalized the adoption.
The Christmas before she adopted Paula, Eileen took a ceramics class with some girlfriends. For one of her projects, she created a beautiful, hand-painted piece depicting a family in a horse-drawn sleigh, all bundled up for a winter ride in the snow. In the sleigh sat a mother, a father, and a little brown haired girl and a little brown haired boy. This was Eileen’s vision of her family, and it happily came true when her beautiful baby boy, Brian James, was born. To add to the excitement of his birth, her girlfriend Betty Goodwin was in the hospital bed next to her, giving birth to her second son, Larry. Eileen, not normally the super competitive type, began to panic slightly when it was almost 11:00pm and still no baby. But shortly before midnight, she was blessed with her very special Valentine’s baby. Her family was complete! And that ceramic sleigh with the family adorned her Christmas table every single year thereafter.
Bob and Eileen moved to a larger house in Huntington Beach, where the family enjoyed bike rides to the beach and visiting friends who all lived close by and Paula started kindergarten. Then, following a family vacation in 1970 to Oregon in a rented Volkswagon pop-up camper van, Bob and Eileen decided to make a move north. Bob went in advance of the family to secure a job. After overseeing the sale and packing of the house, Eileen followed with the two kids on a two-day Greyhound bus trip - quite the brave adventure.
The family rented a house in Milwaukee for a few months while waiting for their new house in Redland, Oregon to be built. One morning, while getting ready for work, Bob suffered a seizure and was hospitalized. It took the doctors a couple of weeks to determine what was wrong – they conducted test after test while he continued to have seizures and was unable to communicate – at one point they even put him in the psych ward for a short period of time. Needless to say, this was a very stressful time for Eileen, as she worried about her husband, cared for her two small kids, oversaw the details of their house being built, all in a town where they only knew a small number of people. Fortunately, Eileen’s mom and dad came for another visit and stayed with her for a few weeks. They were finally able to determine that Bob was suffering seizures related to thyroid disease (he’d had his entire thyroid removed at the age of 15 but was never placed on any thyroid replacement medication!). Fortunately, as soon as they put in on the right medication, he was perfectly fine and came back home as if nothing ever happened.
Life was good in Oregon, and it was here that Eileen and Bob met their very dear friends, Jim and Sandy Gurney, and their home became Paula and Brian’s after-school second home when Eileen decided to return to work at Grant’s in the home goods department – where she began her interest in interior design. The family lived on a large piece of land, bordered by filbert orchards, a forest and a meadow. It was here that they perfected their gardening skills, building a massive garden and planning and planting a huge front yard with a running stony creek, philodendron plants, and lots of fir trees. Eileen learned to can the massive bounty from the garden, so the family enjoyed pickles, tomatoes, beans and corn year round. They never missed a “you-pick-‘em” stand, and regularly had homemade strawberry, blueberry and raspberry jam. The ginormous “Mount Hood Strawberries” were a family favorite – some as large as a tennis ball. It was also during this time that Bob’s father, Herbert, came to visit the family from Hamilton.
When Paula was just entering fourth grade and Brian was starting second grade, Eileen and Bob decided they’d had enough of the rain, and that Paula and Brian should get to know their Canadian family. So they decided to move back to Canada. They packed up the house and Bob drove the Ryder truck across country, with Eileen following behind in their pickup, the two kids and the Collie dog, Duchess, stopping at rest stops and motels along the way. Eileen and the kids stayed first at Grandma and Grandpa’s cottage on Georgian Bay, and then moved in with her brother Ernie in Trenton while Bob looked for work and Paula and Brian started school. It was their hope to live in Canada, but given the political environment in 1973, the Canadian government refused to grant visas to the Gerry family (remember that Bob and Eileen were forced to give up their Canadian citizenship). So, Bob eventually found work in Buffalo, and the family settled into a cute house on a cul-de-sac in Tonawanda, New York. For three years the family made the short 20+ minute drive across the border, regularly visiting both Eileen and Bob’s families in Hamilton, Stoney Creek, Midland, Burlington and St. Catherines. Eileen was filled with joy to host holiday dinners and have her brothers and sisters around her table, and to visit her mom and dad at their home on Georgian Bay. A favorite time was going to Penetang in the winter and visiting her parent’s friends while they cooked huge vats of maple syrup outside in the woods. Another fun adventure was when Eileen, Sharon, Lorraine, Jim, Grandma and Grandpa and various of the grandkids all piled in the pickup and went morel picking (these are disgusting, crevice filled, bug-infested mushroom-like things that require you to walk through the swampiest parts of the forest calling out “here morel…..here morel….” – or maybe that’s just a story that Grandpa told the grandkids to keep them amused). Late nights playing cards with her parents in the cottage kitchen and boating to the neighboring island with her father created wonderful and lasting memories for Eileen.
However, with the impending historical “snow storm of the century” looming, Bob and Eileen felt the call of warmer days, and yet again packed up and moved back to California in August of 1976. Although leaving her family was as hard the second time as it was the first time, the chance to see her “California Family” again held great appeal to Eileen. So again with the packing and driving cross-country, and motels and rest stops.
After investigating various locations to potentially call home, Bob and Eileen decided on Walnut, which would be close to their dear friends Donna and Leary Sonn. So, they rented an apartment in Huntington Beach while waiting for their new home to be built, and Eileen quickly connected with an impressive interior designer, Mazie, who was looking for a protégé. Eileen restarted her career by decorating model homes, and learned a tremendous amount from her new boss. When their house was built, the family moved to Walnut, where Paula continued 7th grade, and Brian was in 5th grade. They built a pool, and enjoyed many fun weekends throwing fabulous pool parties, and also bought a 24’ Terry trailer and spent many weekends camping all over California with their friends.
A few years later, Bob took a new job in Irvine, and when the commute proved to be too much, the family decided to move to Mission Viejo. They lived here for almost four years, while Eileen launched her own design firm, Paris Interiors. It was during this time that Eileen made the very difficult but brave decision to file for divorce from Bob. It was by far the hardest decision she’d ever had to make, but ultimately she knew it was the best decision for her kids and her.
On her own for the first time in her life, Eileen bought a condo in San Juan Capistrano where Brian and Paula could live with her also. They gutted that little place and Eileen made it into a home, complete with a beautiful atrium garden and dozens of rose bushes. Although her heart was breaking, she became stronger and more confident over time, especially as her business continued to flourish. Her sister Sylvia moved to the same neighborhood after her husband Al passed away, and this was a wonderful time for Eileen to again be close to at least one of her sisters.
A short time later, on her birthday, she met a drapery designer/installer named Dan Coloman. Turns out, it was his birthday as well, so they went out for a drink to celebrate and, as they say, the rest is history. They were eventually married, and this time, her mom (and her sister Lorraine) came to her wedding, which was held at a small Catholic cathedral in Laguna Beach. Eileen and Dan were very happy, and enjoyed each other’s company tremendously. They bought a house together in Mission Viejo, and Eileen again decorated it beautifully and cultivated a lovely rose garden. They took a couple of trips back to Canada, went boating often, and also went to Marquette, MI to visit Eileen’s beloved sister Sylvia, who moved there to be with her daughter.
Although it took Eileen a fair amount of time to recover from the hurt of her divorce from Bob, one of the happiest memories for Paula was seeing Eileen interact with Bob during Brian and Elisa’s wedding in Idaho in 2005. One night in particular, Paula and Rich hosted a family dinner at the condo they rented. Around the table sat Paula and Rich, Eileen and Dan, Eileen’s sister Lorraine and her husband Pat, her brother Stan and his wife Rose, her brother, Ernie, and Bob. The laughter, joy and stories shared around the table that night seemed to bring all that was good and right in the world into such clear focus – family is everything and life is too short to carry any hurt for too long.
Eileen and Dan were together for twenty four years until Dan passed away in 2009 from cancer. Her first husband, Bob, passed away in 2012.
Eileen was heartbroken when she lost her best friend. She began to experience a number of unexplained symptoms, prompting her kids to help her search for an answer. Although she was unable to obtain a definitive diagnosis, the most likely answer seemed to be Lewy Body Dementia – a cruel and little-understood disease that causes protein deposits on the brain cells, eventually leading to an inability to walk, communicate or perform the most basic cognitive tasks. As her body began to betray her, it became obviously that she could no longer care for or live by herself. For the past 7 years, Eileen has been very well cared for in a loving board and care facility in Mission Viejo, where she was able to enjoy regular visits from her children, her grandson Connor, good friends like June and Gerry Goodwin, and her brothers Ernie and Paul and sister Lorraine, who came to help her celebrate her 80th birthday.
Eileen passed away around midnight on August 22, 2017. She went very peacefully, with her children by her side. We said prayers together, we talked to her, we held her hand, and when God decided it was time for her to join him, we said goodbye with heavy hearts, but knowing she would be at peace.
Eileen was brave in everything she did. She was steadfast. She was kind. She used to always say “do not put off until tomorrow what you can do today”. She rarely sat still – there was always something to bake, a sweater to knit, a bed to be made, a garden to tend. One of her greatest joys was becoming a grandmother, and Connor will forever remember his grandma reading him stories and doing “patty cake” tirelessly with him.
She was a beautiful mother, a kind wife, a loyal friend, a loving sister, aunt and daughter. She will be missed fiercely. Always.