At the Boston Marathon, In Memory of Ian Charles Gill

Ian Charles Gill, an avid outdoorsman, died Nov. 15, 2012. His mother-in-law, Joann Hall, ran the Boston Marathon in his honor.

Although 54-year-old Ian Charles Gill died five months ago, his family and friends are pretty sure the Redding man was watching over his in-laws, Joann and Butch Hall, at the Boston Marathon Monday.

Some people also wondered whether Charlie lent a hand to his sister-in-law, Amy Lynn Spencer, so she could locate her parents, and remain uninjured, even though Amy was dangerously close to to both bomb blasts at the Boston Marathon.

The family was there for 71-year-old Joann Hall’s first time to participate in the Boston Marathon.

“I believe he was a guardian angel yesterday helping my sister to find our mom,” Michelle Gill said of her husband Charlie. “So many people were frantically looking for loved ones, yet somehow my sister and dad were both safe and my mother found unharmed.”

Technically, you might say that Gill was there, if in name only on the back of his mother-in-law’s shirt: ” In memory of Charlie Gill – 1958 – 2012.”

In some ways, a win for Joann Hall was a win for Charlie, too. When family and friends cheered for Joann, they were cheering for Charlie, too. Besides, one might say that he literally had Joann’s back.

The death of Charlie continues to shake the Gill/Hall family to their core.  He left behind wife Michelle and three grown children, Lisa, 32, Kyle, 26, and Trevor, 18, as well as scores of people who loved him.

Michelle and Charlie Gill during happy times.

Charlie died Nov. 15 and was buried two days after Thanksgiving. Five months later, the searing loss remains raw enough for this family that they still recognize month anniversaries of his death.

What makes his death especially difficult for Charlie’s family is that people like Charlie Gill are supposed to live long, healthy, exciting lives.

But then, 8-year-old little boys, waiting at finish lines for their fathers, are supposed to grow up to become fathers, too.

Cancer first entered Charlie Gill’s life seven years ago. A commercial insurance broker who co-founded Buenaventura Insurance Services in Redding, Charlie worked from home when cancer treatments kept him from going to work. He was anxious to get back to his life and passions that included almost any outdoor activity, such as fly fishing and mountain biking. But his favorite activity of all was “big wall”/rock climbing.

He was a month away from his first solo climb up El Capitan when the cancer everyone thought was gone forever returned with a vengeance.

“Oh, how he wanted to do that climb,” said Michelle Gill. “He said that it hurt more not getting to do the climb than it did knowing his cancer was back.”

Even so, he planned to outlive his cancer, and he maintained his sense of humor.

Five months to the day after Charlie died, his mother-in-law was at the Boston Marathon starting line-up. She ran the race in Charlie’s honor.

Michelle said that although Charlie didn’t necessarily provide the overt motivation for his mother-in-law to enter the Boston Marathon, the senior runner certainly inspired her son-in-law.  The Boston Marathon was going to be a bright spot to ease the pain of the last months’ darkest moments.

“He was so proud of my mom’s running,” Michelle said. “He said it inspired him to do one more big climb.”

After “hangin’ out” on the portaledge, Zenyatta Mondatta, on the east face of El Capitan, Charlie had another wish.

He wrote: “What would be SO cool would be to do it with another cancer survivor who knew a thing or two about technical big wall climbing!,”

He wrote another post, in which his unstoppable attitude came through loud and clear:

“The dream is still alive and well – nothing will keep me from most likely a solo ascent of Zenyatta Mondatta on El Cap, Yosemite Valley,” he wrote. “No stopping, nothing gets in the way. I already know I can do it. Picture taken just below the Lightning Bolt Roofs during a storm. Woot!”

There are so many photos like those, and Charlie’s words to match, that it makes the sting of the grief that much sharper for those he left behind. Pictures like this one, of Michelle, Charlie, and their son, Trevor, bring the best-of-time memories, only to be followed by the worst-of-times sorrow.

But Charlie’s family has chosen life, just as he did. And moments like Monday’s bombing at the Boston Marathon only strengthen their resolve and determination.

Case in point, Joann Hall, the family’s matriarch, is home from Boston and back in Redding. Her feet are blistered and swollen, about which she says, “No big deal. They’ll spring right back. They have to. I have to work tomorrow.”

And in case you’re wondering, Joanne plans to return to Boston next year. There, she says she will run and she will finish, something she’s quite serious about, because the bomb blasts cheated her from completing the race, just a half mile from the finish line.

“Those lunatics are NOT going to keep me from getting my medal,” she said.

No doubt.

Meanwhile, come May 17, one year to the day of Charlie’s relapsed cancer, Michelle Gill and son Trevor will go sky-diving together in memory of  their departed husband and father.

No stopping. Nothing gets in the way.

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Prior to 2007 Chamberlain was an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, CA.

Doni Chamberlain

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded A News Cafe in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain holds a Bachelor's Degree in journalism from CSU, Chico. She's an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She's been featured and quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, The Washington Post, L.A. Times, Slate, Bloomberg News and on CNN, KQED and KPFA. She lives in Redding, California.

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