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Geraldine Gormley’s numerous adventures left behind a trail of memories and lifelong friends.

Strong-willed, well dressed and outgoing, Gormley blazed a path from her hometown of Portland to Alaska and Germany before she landed in Edmonds.

Along the way, sometimes with a gin and tonic or good German white wine in hand, she raised three daughters and forged enduring friendships, and set an example for her children and grandchildren of the importance of taking risks and being attentive and compassionate to others.

Gormley, who lived at Edmonds Landing retirement and assisted living facility, died April 11 of COVID-19. Sunday would have been her 97th birthday.

Her adventures began when she became the first woman in her family to graduate from college, earning a degree in business and industry from Oregon State University in 1945. She took a job with the Department of Fish and Wildlife in Juneau, Alaska, and moved there sight unseen, knowing nobody.


Family lore says that while Gormley was renting a room at the Baranof Hotel in Juneau, she approached her future husband, Matt Gormley, at the hotel bar: “And what is your name?”

“She was not a shy girl,” said her daughter, Darlene Stanton.

The young couple took advantage of what Alaska offered — skiing, hunting and fishing.

Matt Gormley’s job pulled him away from their home on Douglas Island across the Gastineau Channel from Juneau for long stretches. In his absence, Geraldine Gormley and their three young daughters spent time at the beach and in the woods surrounding their house. They explored together even amid the extreme weather and earthquakes of Alaska — their mother somehow made it look easy, said daughter Patricia McGraw.

“She gave us a spirit of risk-taking balanced by self-restraint,” McGraw said. “We learned to live close to the edge.”

Gormley also taught business at the local community college, and every two years worked as a legislative assistant in Juneau, Alaska’s capital city.


She called her three children and four grandchildren nearly every week, sent letters and never missed a birthday.

During these regular conversations, Gormley always remembered every little detail about what was going on in the lives of her loved ones and was quick to give glowing updates about cousins, in-laws and friends, said granddaughter Andrea Stanton.

“She worked very hard to keep in touch with us and always remembered what we were up to, even the details of things I was working on or little things my kids were doing,” she said.

McGraw said the family called Gormley “the interrogator” because she subtly and easily pulled out whatever information she was after.

The Gormleys and their three daughters moved to Seattle in 1960. They hadn’t been in town long before Matt Gormley was offered jobs in California and Heidelberg, Germany. Geraldine and Matt put the decision to a family vote. Germany was the unanimous choice.

Gormley didn’t waste time making friends in their new home. The couple attended balls at Heidelberg Castle, cruised the Rhine River with friends and packed the kids into their VW bus for road trips to Switzerland and Italy.


“We were always taking off and going places,” McGraw said.

The Gormley children were allowed the freedom to explore their new home, just as they’d learned to push themselves as youngsters in Alaska. At 15, Patricia was taking bus trips with friends to Paris, and she and Darlene took ski trips to Switzerland.

The Gormleys left Germany in 1973 and settled in Edmonds, where Matt’s family had deep roots. The couple traveled and kept a busy social schedule until Matt Gormley’s death in 2006.

McGraw said her mother’s passing came as a shock, despite her age, because Gormley’s mother lived to be 104.

“We all planned on having her at least to 104 and, we hoped, longer,” she said. “I think we are all still stunned that she is gone.”

(Design by Frank Mina / The Seattle Times)
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