Santa Barbara said goodbye to Gail Rink on Sunday, but she hasn’t really left.
Through a lifetime of personal and professional relationships, Rink touched thousands of lives in her work with Hospice of Santa Barbara before she died unexpectedly July 27 at age 66. Her lessons and compassion live on in those she’s mentored or helped.
“She had a way of touching people’s hearts like they’d never been touched before,” said Dr. Stephen Hosea, an internist and infectious disease specialist who co-authored a training series with Rink called “Finding Meaning in Medicine.”
Hundreds of Rink’s friends and family members filled the Santa Barbara County Courthouse Sunken Garden for Sunday’s memorial service, on a sunny, clear day that she would have loved, her friends said.
Rink made hospice care part of her life for more than 30 years as a volunteer then executive director at Hospice of Santa Barbara. From counseling patients and families to finding a new location for the organization’s expansion, she always had real vision, Hosea said.
Many of her friends and colleagues who spoke Sunday first met Rink when the AIDS crisis hit the community, and she eventually won a national award for her hospice work helping patients and doctors — including Hosea — who were dealing with AIDS.
Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, who met her while working for a local school district, said Rink could inspire total strangers to become volunteers — and often did.
More than a coworker, Rink became a mentor and friend to many, including Gabriela Dodson, Hospice’s clinical services director. Dodson spoke of Rink’s endless advice about motherhood and being a social worker, even after Rink was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and requested that Dodson become her social worker.
“We’d start off the visit with a sermon; she’d give me a sermon, or two,” she said.
At the end of those visits, Rink would share stories from her past.
Rink had a history of both following and breaking the rules — the latter of which was followed by her implanting her own, better rules in their place, Dodson said.
More than anything, Rink is remembered as tasting every part of life, and her three rules for living each day were: “Live in the present, live with shining spirituality and life as if each day is your last, with attention, love and purpose,” Dodson said.
In her words, “life is indeed good.”
David Selberg, Rink’s longtime friend and executive director of the Pacific Pride Foundation, spoke of their decades of friendship from living, traveling and spending so many holidays together. From tracking down the best lobster in Massachusetts to working in the garden, they had many adventures over the years, he said.
“Gail would ask me, did we do good, David?” he said. “Yes, we did most definitely. You did very, very good.”
There are hundreds of stories of Rink’s support to families dealing with death and dying, said Michael Salsbury, a past Hospice of Santa Barbara board president and one of many who had Rink on hand during a loved one’s death.
“She’s been there, lovingly handed someone over to a greater power, and stepped back,” he said. “That’s not your typical 9-to-5 job.”
Rink’s work was half done when someone passed away, because then the rebuilding and healing began, Salsbury said. She would say that you could survive the loss and your life could and would be better again, and you would believe her, he said.
But, “we never learned how to deal with loss when it’s her,” he said.
Rink is survived by her daughter, Dr. Elizabeth Rink of Bozeman, Mont.
The Gail M. Rink Miracle Fund has been established in her honor, and donations can be made by contacting Hospice of Santa Barbara at 805.563.8820.
Click here to post a memorial at Hospice of Santa Barbara.
— Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.