A Saturday memorial service will honor of the life of Dr. Maj StormoGipson, a local pediatrician who made frequent trips to Latin America to help people in need.
StormoGipson, 57, died Friday in a rafting accident during a family outing on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. The service is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. at the Kroc Center in Coeur d’Alene, 1765 W. Golf Course Road.
StormoGipson became trapped underwater when her inflatable kayak struck a partially submerged tree, according to an account provided by her family.
Because the upcoming rapids were expected to be mild, she had chosen to ride solo in the kayak. But a pine tree still smoldering from a forest fire had fallen into the water, blocking about half of the river. Others in the rafting party were able to navigate around the tree, which was located downstream from a blind curve, but StormoGipson saw it too late to alter her course. Efforts to revive her were unsuccessful.
StormoGipson and her husband, Justin StormoGipson, an ophthalmologist, were a force in social justice issues. They volunteered at medical clinics in Nicaragua, Mexico and Guatemala, helped found a nonprofit called International Eye Institute and were active in local issues.
“They were a model couple – a team – working on the behalf of dignity of all people,” said Tony Stewart, co-founder of the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations.
In June, Maj StormoGipson testified before the Coeur d’Alene City Council in favor of an ordinance that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. Stewart said she presented national research about the success rates of children raised in households headed by stable, loving same-sex couples.
“Her legacy is a wonderful one,” Stewart said of StormoGipson. “She lived her life serving others.”
StormoGipson grew up in India, the daughter of Baptist missionaries. She had a knack for setting people at ease and related especially well to children, said Dr. Bruce Abbotts, who worked with her at Valley Young People’s Clinic, where StormoGipson was a pediatrician for nearly 16 years.
“She was committed to fairness in kids’ health,” Abbotts said.
StormoGipson was fluent in Spanish. She and her husband took as many as three trips a year to provide health care in other countries.
“She was a remarkable person, quietly humble, never drawing attention to herself,” said Mary Sibulsky, a nurse who was the team coordinator for the international trips.
StormoGipson combined tenacity and hard work with a compassionate nature that found an outlet in helping others. Colleagues never heard her complain about difficult patients.
“She had an amazing spirit for life,” said Karen Sines, administrator of North Idaho Eye Institute, who went on mission trips with StormoGipson. “She was always giving.”
In a 1999 interview with The Spokesman-Review, StormoGipson’s husband described how a trip to Nepal when they were college students steered the couple toward medicine. They met an English nurse who had provided health care in a remote area for 25 years.
Both entered medical school and later worked in Nicaragua with a Peace Corps-type program through the Presbyterian Church. When they returned to the United States, they chose medical specialties that would take them back to Latin America.
The couple’s work in Nicaragua influenced their decision 13 years ago to take part in a nonviolent protest at the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Ga. They were arrested. The school trained Latin American soldiers, and hundreds of its graduates were tied to torture, death squads and military dictatorships, according to the Congressional Record. In Nicaragua, health care workers and clinics were frequent targets of the Contras, which were backed by the U.S. military.
StormoGipson is survived by her husband and the couple’s three children.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to the International Eye Institute: 1814 Lincoln Way, Coeur d’Alene, ID 83814 or www.eyegive.org.