Topanga Messenger - August 27, 2015 - By Flavia Potenza
Nearly 100 friends and family gathered at the Community House on Sunday, August 16, to remember and celebrate the life of Gretchen Booth, a former special education teacher at Topanga Elementary and a beloved member of the Topanga community.
Born Gretchen M. Scarry in Scituate, Massachusetts, she died peacefully with family and close friends around her on August 4, at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles, after a long and courageous battle. She was 66.
Booth was the daughter of Margaret (Dunphy) Scarry and the late Edward Arthur Scarry, graduated from Scituate High School and Smith College and completed further studies at Cal State University Los Angeles, always furthering her teaching credentials.
She had a special talent with troubled kids and special needs children and retired after a long teaching career in California as a Special Resources teacher. She adored children and animals, was a dedicated volunteer throughout her life and had a lifelong love of singing, art, cooking and adventure.
She is survived by her mother, Margaret M. (Dunphy) Scarry of Duxbury, MA; her sisters, Nancy J. Scarry of Palm Springs, CA; Jane Scarry-Trotta of Pembroke, MA; Rosanne Raven of Middletown, R.I.; Anita Scarry-Emery of West Yarmouth, Mass.; and her brother, Edward J. Scarry of Palm Springs, CA. She is also survived by her three children, Alexander “Allie” Maggio, Noah Maggio and Annie “Nini” Booth; and by three grandchildren.
Gretchen’s brother, Edward, representing the East Coast branch of the family, will take her ashes back to Massachusetts.
Donations may be made to the American Heart Association.
The great hall of the Community House hosted tables filled with Gretchen’s “stuff,” beautiful lamps, multiple household items, and the eclectic collection of a lifetime of living.
The stage and steps became a beautiful altar draped with colorful fabric, set upon rugs, with items that reflected her life set throughout the tableau with a photo of a young, beautiful Gretchen taking center stage next to a ceramic urn, made by Megan Rice, containing her ashes. Large floral bouquets placed on each side embellished the setting, something Gretchen would have liked.
First up to the mic, her son, Allie, encouraged friends to take what they wanted or needed from a table in the back of the room piled high with her “stuff” reclaimed from her home.
“When Nini and Noah and I cleared out our mother’s house, we packed all her belongings in my pick-up truck and just brought everything here,” he said. He went on to share the moment of his mother’s death.
“When that moment happened, I felt this incredible feeling of joy and thought, “great job!” I felt so proud of her. Throughout that whole time, the last days, about two months, she was willing to live but she was completely okay with dying. It was so beautiful to me and that’s why my joy came to me. She was fearless and beautiful. That helped us. I’m proud of her to have had such a graceful exit.
“My mom’s show has ended and this is the after-party,” he said to great applause.
“I’m so blessed to have had Gretchen as my mother,” said son, Noah. “I’ve been burned out for almost three years. Having a friend die at 15, it was hard for me to deal with death. But being sober and going through my mother’s death with her has been a blessing. I made my amends and made sure I got it all out at her last breath. This is really a celebration of Gretchen’s life and her life of being loving and tolerant. I’m learning her lessons now.”
Gretchen’s brother, Edward, and her mother, Maggie, “had many talks with her on the phone. She departed in peace, greatly loved and not afraid. Maggie, her mother, said, “Right now, she’s singing with the angels.”
Her sister, Nancy Scarry, called her “adventurous a free spirit, a true Child of Woodstock. For her, the more festive and embellished, the better and, more than anyone I know, she loved to cry. She was a rebel, a rule-breaker and it’s fitting we have this service here today because she loved Topanga. I’m so sad she’s gone.”
Susan Henry, her best friend for 30 years, said, “What drew me to Gretchen in the first place was her capacity for joy. We always chose joy, no matter what. If she could say one thing today, she knew that we were spirits in these bodies and we were made for joy. This is a journey that is meant to be joyful. We shared 67 miles in Utah and I helped her realize a lifelong dream: to see the Mormon Tabernacle Choir…twice! Once rehearsing for the weekly radio show and again when they performed it.”
Nini’s husband, Dave Gray said, “When she was beginning to transition, I told her, “Don’t worry about Nini. You leave behind this amazing wake of love.’ The challenge now is for us to amplify the wave.”
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