Gabriel Leanza died peacefully at home on August 9, 2010.
Gabriel was born in Catania, Italy, in 1938. He made his way to Washington, DC, in 1974 to enter a PhD program in international affairs at the School for Advanced International Studies. He became disenchanted with the rat race, as he put it, of career advancement, left SAIS, and worked for ten years as a househusband, parent, and bicycle messenger. During that period, he also devoted a great deal of his time and energy to helping Community for Creative Non-Violence combat homelessness in our nation’s capital.
Gabriel came to GDS 22 years ago, first as a bus driver, then as part of the LMS grounds and maintenance crew. In his last incarnation at GDS, he managed the phone system, a job he continued part time after his retirement.
Among his many talents, Gabriel was an extraordinary cook, an artist really, whose creations were as beautiful as they were delicious. His meals always produced exhortations of, “You should open a restaurant,” but he made it clear that cooking was his love, not his job. He baked bread each week, pannetone at Christmas, and mousse cakes for every birthday. The lunches he packed for me daily were the envy of the Middle School.
Gabriel began his final journey in January, with a persistent cold and cough. In February, an x-ray pointed to pneumonia; then a ct scan showed a lesion that was worrisome; and in March a bronchoscopy confirmed cancer. Scans showed no metastasis, so we had good hopes for successful surgery. However, instead of the operable tumor we expected, the surgeon found a so-called orphan cancer that the medical profession does not know how to treat.
Because GDS generously allowed me to take a leave of absence, I was able to spend the past three-and-a-half months living the rest of Gabriel’s life with him. Our quality of life during this period was greatly enhanced by the care we received from Capital Hospice, and I mean the “we” part literally. They provided me with the know-how to support and care for Gabriel. They helped us manage our anxieties, visited us at home, and delivered Gabriel’s medications. This meant more time for us to spend together, unfettered by treks to multiple doctors, hours in urgent care, and countless pharmacy runs. First, we enjoyed the World Cup, every single game of it, often in the company of family and friends. Then, we prepared for and attended our son Francesco’s wedding to Steven Solway on July 31. Gabriel loved every minute of it; the way he glowed meant that the rest of us could almost forget that he was sick. We spent the remainder of the weekend with our grandchildren (Francesco’s two-year-old Beatrix, pictured with Gabriel, and two-month-old Walden) to whom Gabriel is Nonno. He finished his phone business at the HS on Wednesday, waited for Francesco to arrive on Saturday and for his brother Enzo to arrive from England on Sunday. I have often heard stories about this kind of thing and I know it sounds corny, but he waited. He died as he lived—with dignity, in the midst of family and friends.
I have received countless visits, cards, notes, and emails about Gabriel since last Monday. The picture they paint is of a kind, patient, methodical, competent, gentle, under-stated man. Russell [Shaw] sent us a card recently to let us know in a Quakerly way that he and his wife were “holding us in the light.” Gabriel and I both felt “held” by the GDS community over the last four months, and I am counting on your continuing support as I try my best to integrate this new reality.
Mille grazie in advance.
Francesco and I ask that anyone wishing to honor Gabriel give a donation in his memory to Capital Hospice.
—Kathy Shollenberger, MS teacher and Gabriel’s wife of 32 years