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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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He never met a stranger

UPDATED: Sun., Jan. 31, 2021

Gary Heidal  (Courtesy of the family)
Gary Heidal (Courtesy of the family)
By Shawn Vestal The Spokesman-Review

Gary Heidal told the nurses taking care of him at Deaconess Hospital, “When I get out of here, I’m going to buy you all dinner.”

He did not live to keep that promise – although his family made good on it. His death on Jan. 18, following a brief but grave illness, came far too soon for 82-year-old Gary.

“He was supposed to die at age 102, mowing his lawn,” said his daughter, Karen. “Not from this stupid COVID.”

Born in Tacoma, Gary moved with his family to Massena, New York, in 1953 as a teenager. He served in the Air Force as a jet mechanic, including in Vietnam. He and his wife, Patricia, raised a daughter and son as they traveled the country for his Air Force career. In 1977, he retired from Cannon Air Force Base in New Mexico after 20 years of service.

They moved to Spokane, bought a home and opened a boat repair business, from which Gary retired in 2000. He loved camping, fishing and hunting with his family, and he loved to tell stories and meet people.

“He was kind, he was extremely humble, and a very proud, proud man,” Karen said. “He never met a stranger. He so enjoyed interacting with people. He’d always say to people, ‘Tell me a story!’ ”

Steve, his son, added: “Or he’d ask, ‘How old are you today?’ ”

Several members of the family became infected with the coronavirus in December. Everyone else recovered, but Gary became more seriously ill. He had smoked as a younger man, and though he quit in 1978, he had some lung damage that the virus exploited. He was hospitalized, and had gone home after a seeming recovery when a second bout of pneumonia sent him back to the hospital.

His family was still shocked and grieving last week.

“COVID steals people,” said his daughter-in-law, Jolyn. “He did not want to go.”

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