Geoffrey and Elizabeth “Betsy” Gattis

FALMOUTH – Geoffrey Gattis and Elizabeth “Betsy” Gattis, both 68, died January 12 in an automobile crash in Kittery, as they drove home from a visit with their grandson in Massachusetts.

Geoff Gattis retired in 2018 as executive vice president of Bath Savings Institution, where he had worked since 1992. Betsy Gattis was a longtime copy editor and page designer at the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram. She also retired in 2018, after 37 years with the newspaper.

A brilliant listener, Geoff had charismatic empathy, eminent practicality and an immediate sense of humor. An international adventurer and naturalist, he was always on the move, exploring and discovering, a detective of the manifold wonders of creation and experience in which he delighted. Geoff was born on October 27, 1952. As a child, Geoff was an explorer in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and the nearby Everglades. With what would be his lifelong friends, he went on “swamp-tromping,” waist-deep expeditions with his crew of older pals into the Fakahatchee swamp of South Florida to appreciate botanical and biological specimens as well as intense thrills like encounters with alligators, snakes and hand-sized spiders.

Betsy was known for her warm smile, quick wit, dedication to the truth, joyous laugh, and generosity of mind, body, and spirit. She was born on August 30, 1952 at the Bethesda Naval Hospital outside of Washington, D.C. The career of Betsy’s father, a Naval aviator who commanded two aircraft carriers before rising to the rank of Rear Admiral, required that the family move between Washington, Florida, Virginia and California, sometimes once a year. Between these tours, though, she and her family returned to their home in McLean, Virginia, outside of Washington. There Betsy attended McLean High School, joining the varsity cheerleading team and editing the yearbook before graduating in 1970. The following year she began attending Lynchburg College, where she met her future husband. Geoff was standing outside of the student union, collecting signatures to become freshman class president, when he approached a lovely young woman named Betsy to sign in his favor.

Betsy and Geoff left Lynchburg College in 1972 after their Sophomore year to enter George Washington University in Washington, D.C., from which they graduated in 1974 and 1975, respectively – Betsy with a degree in journalism, Geoff with a degree in History. They headed west to Santa Monica, California, where Betsy worked as a temp in various offices while Geoff wrote more than 100 songs, hoping to break into the music industry while working as a waiter at Mark Twain’s Notorious Jumping Frog Saloon in Brentwood, California. Geoff and Betsy later enjoyed reminiscing about their brushes with fame – Geoff waited on Leslie Nielsen, and Arnold Schwarzenegger was known to have given Betsy a double-take at a traffic stop.

Not having hit the big time in L.A., Geoff and Betsy moved back to D.C. in 1977 where Geoff enrolled at American University School of Business while working as a waiter. Betsy began her career as an editor at Broadcasting Magazine. They were married in 1978 in nearby Rockville, Maryland, surrounded by family and friends. Geoff earned his MBA in 1980, and shortly thereafter, the two moved to Maine, which became their beloved permanent home and where their two boys were born. Geoff’s first job in Maine was as the business manager of the Portland branch of a statewide hardware store, helping them break into the green energy market with items that conserved water and saved electricity. He held that job for two years before starting his true career in banking, which led him to Bath Savings Bank in 1992 and a 26-year career from which he retired in 2018 as the Executive Vice President of Commercial Lending. Betsy was a longtime copy editor and page designer at the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram. She also retired in 2018, after 37 years with the newspaper.

Betsy and Geoff welcomed two sons into their beloved Maine: Bryan Tait Gattis(now Wulff) in 1984 and William Barton Gattis in 1987. As parents, Betsy and Geoff raised their children alongside dear friends. They were enthusiastically involved in building positive childhoods for not just their children but others in the community. Geoff coached T-ball, and Betsy volunteered with the Falmouth High School Theater Company. Both Betsy and Geoff were fixtures at Barton’s performances and Bryan’s cross-country and track meets, sporting Falmouth accessories with pride. Friends and family remember their children being well-loved, well-fed and well-entertained in the Gattis home (slide-whistles, kazoos, a piano, and guitars … lots of guitars). They were supportive, sensitive, compassionate and thoughtful partners to their close friends on the long and sometimes hard journey of raising children. As parents, Betsy and Geoff made sure that it was unambiguous that they were proud of their children and that their children were unconditionally loved.

Professionally and personally, Betsy and Geoff were pillars of their community, and their positive impacts will have a ripple effect beyond our ability to comprehend. In Geoff’s time with Bath Savings, he supported small business loans that created local institutions such as Becky’s Diner, Allagash Brewing Company and Couleur Collection, to name just a few. Betsy left her mark on the Portland Press Herald as well as serving as the copy editor for a number of published individual literary works, such as “Secret Agent” by Mark Johnston and “Go ByBoat” by Dr. Chuck Radis. In retirement, Betsy spoke of wanting to become a children’s author. She mused about such titles as “The Boy Who Asked Too Many Questions,” wanting children to know they can think, feel and express themselves however they want.

Betsy and Geoff’s world knew no bounds. They were compassionate citizens of the world and took it upon themselves to learn, understand, and adapt to do their part to make every corner of the world a more diverse and inclusive space. Their home was filled with cherished mementos and treasures from places they had and hadn’tbeen. Betsy and Geoff traveled all over the world. They brought their sons on several trips each year to open them to the joy and education that travel affords. In their brief years of retirement, they took two notable trips: a six-week road trip across the United States to visit national parks and beloved friends and family, and a three-month adventure through southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand.

Betsy and Geoff were vibrant and inspiring individuals, and together were such a powerful model of how to love and care for others. They were active members of Foreside Community Church, UCC, in Falmouth and avid supporters of local agencies that helped to create inclusive communities. Their family and friends are so proud of the lives they built, the work and service they contributed, the 50-year relationship they shared and nurtured, and the passion and adventurousness that lit up their lives and those around them.

Betsy and Geoff built a home filled with wonder. There was music and food, comfortable places to sit, photos, and no shortage of mementos from past trips. Their home told a story of the people they were and the beauty they found and could create. Their home could hold moments of tranquil stillness for reflection equally as well as spurts of raucous laughter. Spending time with Geoff and Betsy made you feel that you were the center of the universe. They were fully present and curious in conversation and lived by the philosophy that people will remember some of what you say, some of what you do, but above all else, they will remember how you made them feel.

As grandparents, Betsy and Geoff rolled on the floor, laughed with abandon, and built magical worlds of animals, trains, trucks, and the wonders of the world (Ice cream! Dogs! Trees!). Shortly after their grandson Orlie’s birth, Betsy drove to Boston to help her daughter-in-law, Elise, when Bryan briefly went back to work. As she held Orlie and gave him a bottle, Betsy gently rocked and said “Heaven” over and over again. Betsy and Geoff embraced grandparenthood overnight, and it wasn’t long before they singlehandedly wiped out any and every garage sale for miles with toys, books, and other kid-centered items (most of which will be used in years to come). Beginning in Orlie’s third month and continuing until the day of their death, they babysat Orlie for half the week. Additionally, Elise, Bryan and Orlie were lucky to live with them in Maine to ride out some of the pandemic. Through Geoff, Orlie instantly adopted a love of birdwatching, where they could sit in their matching black leather recliners (Geoff’s full size, Orlie’s half-size), with their matching foldable New England bird guides, and evaluate what the day brought their way. Betsy heard Orlie’s first word, and taught him the magic of crackers and dip. They perfected their form together through practice. Orlie knew the sound of Betsy pouring her morning granola from anywhere in the house and knew it was time for “second breakfast.”

Stalwart stewards of justice, Betsy and Geoff were fervent supporters of equal rights for all and a functioning democracy that worked for all and pulled people up to have access to their potential in a welcoming world. Betsy and Geoff valued knowledge, truth and science. Betsy was a voracious reader and had a special talent for recommending books to others. She was also an impressive crossword puzzle solver and at-home “Jeopardy” player.

While losing Betsy and Geoff this way is a reminder of our mortality, in their case it is also a reminder that what you do can be your immortality. What a gift they were and always will be. We knew them as Betsy and Geoff, Mom and Dad, GGand Zaza, and we will never forget them.

The couple are survived by two sons, Will Barton Gattis of Oregon, and Bryan Gattis Wulff, his wife, Elise, and their son, Orlie, of Massachusetts. Geoff is survived by his sister, Sandy Gattis, and her husband, Tony Treu of Fort Lauderale, Florida, and sister Patricia Williams of Atlanta, Georgia. Geoff was pre-deceased by his parents, Mildred and Bryant Gattis. Betsy is survived by siblings Peter Lemos and his wife, Laura, of Glastonbury, Connecticut; Steve Lemos of Freeport, Maine; Laurie Brasfield and her husband, John, of King, North Carolina; Kate Lemos McHale and her husband, Steve, of Brooklyn, New York; and Maggie Lemos of Durham, North Carolina; and Betsy’s stepmother, Susan Lemos of Damariscotta, Maine. Betsy and Geoff are also survived by cherished nieces, nephews, cousins, family and friends. Betsy was pre-deceased by her brother William “Skip” Lemos Jr. and her parents, Bill and Betty Lemos.

Friends are invited to join a virtual service for Betsy and Geoff on Sunday, January 24, at 2 p.m. through the Foreside Community Church by utilizing this link https://www.facebook.com/foresidechurch

To leave online condolences, please visit http://www.jspelkeyfuneralhome.com.

Friends of the family have established a scholarship fund for Betsy and Geoff’s grandson, Orlie Wulff. To contribute, visit http://www.jspelkeyfuneralhome.com for more information.

GoFundMe Link for Orlie Wulff Scholarship: https://www.gofundme.com/f/orlie-wulff-scholarship-fund?utm_campaign=p_cp+share-sheet&utm_medium=copy_link_all&utm_source=customer

In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to Maine African Partnership for Social Justice at https://mapsj.org and Habitat for Humanity of Greater Portland at http://habitatportlandme.org/info/

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