Nancy Tays: Remembrances of my first love and my last love

Nancy Tays

She was born on August 3, 1944, to her parents, Samuel and Francis Hopkins of Oakland, CA. She was a fraternal twin, unfortunately the twins had RH factor, which was not well known at that time. Nancy survived, but her twin, Edward, died 2 weeks later. She had two older brothers, Neal, the oldest, and middle brother, Dale. They grew up on Fruitvale Avenue in Oakland where her father ran a printing business called Sam Hopkins Legal Forms out of the garage in their back yard.  Brothers Neal and Dale both began working at a young age with their father while Nancy helped her Mom run the household, keeping the family checkbook and buying the family groceries and planning their meals accordingly.

Early in her grammar school years Nancy skipped a grade, so she was always the youngest in her class. She had no problems getting good grades and graduated high school at 16. One of the best things that came from that move was meeting Marlene Tomlinson, a friend who she kept until she passed. She and Marlene would spend their afternoons in the local park, looking for small wildlife, playing in a stream, attending church together, coloring each other’s hair from a box of color they found at a second-hand store, all the things that childhood was intended to be.

Marlene introduced Nancy to a young man several years her senior named Bob Swift. They soon were married in a small chapel in the Santa Cruz Mountains in June 1962 with the permission of her parents, as she was a couple months shy of her 18th birthday. Shortly thereafter, Bob was drafted into the army, and they moved to Colorado Springs where Bob served at Fort Carson. Nancy got a job at Woolworths where she remembers having to ring a bell when morning sickness came along. Their first child Bonnie Lynn was born at Fort Carson on May 11, 1963. Brother Michael Robert Swift was born two years later on the very same day in Oakland. Recently, Nancy took both Bonnie and Mike back to Colorado Springs to see where they had lived in a tiny house that still stands today. The claw foot tub that Nancy remembered bathing Bonnie in was still there.

After Bob’s discharge from the Army he and Nancy moved a couple of times in Oakland, and then there came an opportunity to move the family to Nancy’s grandma’s home on Mercer Island, WA, after her grandmother passed away in 1967. As a child Nancy loved taking the train to visit her grandmother, spending the summer there. To her the cabin was magical. It was at that time that Nancy learned to love riding the trains. Nancy had visions of buying her Grandmother’s home, but her mom wasn’t ready to part with it. Eventually, Nancy and Bob moved to Woodinville, WA to a nice community filled with young married couples and children, lots of children. It was called the Cottage Lake Beach Club. There were lots of long-lasting friendships made there. For Nancy, one friend in particular stood out: Penny.

Nancy and Bob’s marriage came to an amicable end in 1972. At that time Nancy went back to school at Providence Hospital in Seattle and became a nurse. Ultimately she would work in the Intensive Coronary Care Unit at Providence for 15 years. It was during that time that she met her current husband Gerry Tays, a National Park Ranger stationed at Mount Rainier National Park. When Gerry came to pick her up for their first date she was surprised to see a clean-shaven man in a leisure suit, not the bearded man wearing a red plaid woolen shirt and boots as she had envisioned. They laughed often about that first date. Another early date they went on involved bicycling from Woodinville to Seattle on the Burke-Gilman Trail. The trip home was a bit tiresome, but Nancy was a trooper through and through. Gerry had been a bicycle commuter for some time, and he just expected Nancy to go along at his pace.

For her birthday that year Gerry had a cake made, and before she opened the box, Bonnie and Mike saw it and were dumb founded. The name on the cake was Clair. Had he mistakenly used the name of an old girlfriend, or did he not know her name? Nancy assured them that Clair was the name Gerry gave her in reference to their favorite song, Clair de Lune, the one they would later play at their wedding

Later in their courtship one of the couples who had been instrumental in them getting together asked Gerry to take them on a bicycle camping trip to Moran State Park on Orcas Island in the San Juan Islands. It sounded like the ideal trip; they would all meet at the ferry landing at Anacortes and walk on with their bicycles, loaded with all sorts of gear for the weekend. When they all met on the ferry they realized that the couple whose idea this trip had been from the start had gotten cold feet at the last minute and decided to bag the whole camping idea. Meanwhile, upon reaching the ferry landing in Friday Harbor Nancy and Gerry started pushing their camp gear laden bikes like crazy to keep ahead of the cars that, like them, were headed to Moran and the fast-dwindling campsites. If there was a bright side to the friends “chickening out” it was that they were able to secure a campsite for the party of 4. For Nancy and Gerry the ride was as good as it could be; a cloudless sky with only a hint of a breeze, enough to keep sweat from forming. A stop at a small grocery store for a drink and sandwich just topped it off.

But the topper for the weekend came when the other couple announced that not only had they no bicycles for the weekend bicycling journey, they had no food to eat either. It had been their intention all along to drive over to Rosario’s for a nice Saturday evening meal before retiring to the back of their station wagon and a comfortable evening’s sleep. After they left for dinner Gerry was beside himself; the couple whose idea this whole trip had been had no intention of having a bicycle trip to Orcas. When they got back to the hard-as-a-rock campsite they asked what the love birds had had for dinner. Freeze dried beef stroganoff they were told, and “it was delicious.” And what did you have at Rosario’s?  Beef stroganoff they replied. That was the final straw. To no one’s surprise, the relationship not only survived but flourished.

Nancy and Gerry were wed on May 3, 1981, in the backyard of Nancy’s best friend, Penny  It was another magical day in western Washington – sunny with not a cloud in the sky. Following the ceremony and drinks and hors d’oeuvres with dear friends and family, the couple headed out on their honeymoon, first stop the South Center Marriott. Waiting for them on the coffee table in their room was a bottle of champagne with a note from the couple who “had done us wrong” on Orcas that said, “Congratulations if you’ve made it this far.” They would go on to become dear, dear friends. Their honeymoon took them to Carmel and Big Sur, CA. Little did they know at that time that Nancy and her two siblings, Dale and Neal, would go on to become partners in an historic adobe style home just 2 blocks from the ocean. Over the years Nancy came to love the trips to Carmel-by-the-Sea. It was always a reminder of her Mom, who had bought the property with the proceeds from the sale of the Grandma’s property on Mercer Island.

When Nancy and Mike came to live with Gerry at Longmire after their honeymoon, Gerry’s vision of his residence a few steps away from his office was a bunch of carpenter ants and mice scurrying about whenever a fire was lit in the huge, river rock fireplace. Mike saw his room, the entire second floor, as a place for a bed and an office that he came to love. Nancy saw the house as a home and called it The Enchanted Cottage. It is there where they will meet again as promised at her final breaths.

Nancy’s life would be turned upside down when she met and married Gerry. From Mt. Rainier they would move to the North Cascades National Park Complex with home and offices in Marblemount, WA. Perhaps the biggest thrill was when they bought a Golden Retriever puppy they named Bert. They also acquired a couple Manx kittens, Buddy and Sarah. From then on in their marriage they were never be without at least one dog and one cat. After they retired to Olympia, WA in 1994, while back in the North Cascades, Nancy saw a young boy outside a grocery store in Sedro Wooley holding a black puppy in a blanket that he was trying to give away. He was a precious lab/Rottweiler mix, and Nancy swept him up in her arms and said he was perfect.  That dog, to be named Woody, captured both Nancy and Gerry’s hearts.

Next stop on the journey was Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. It was difficult to leave all of their friends and family, but it was a life that Nancy had bought into and came to love.  Travelling across country in 2 cars with 2 pets was not as easy as they thought it might be. They bought CB radios and took on truckers’ names, Sadie for her and Bert for him, just to enjoy the scenery on Interstate 90 and not get lost when they lost sight of one another.

Life in northern Virginia was enthralling. Their home in Luray overlooked the west side of the Appalachian mountains. Springtime, in particular, was nothing but a full display of Redbud trees and Forsythia bushes that enthralled Nancy as she went about continuing her nursing career and later becoming a licensed real estate agent. One friend in particular, Miss Vicki, came to become a lifelong friend and someone who we were pleased to come to know in her hometown along with her life partner, Benny. Shenandoah was also a hiking park, and they got in many miles before it was time to move on.

From Shenandoah, Gerry transferred back to the same Washington, DC office he had left before coming to Mt. Rainier. The office had been eliminated during the Reagan and Bush Administrations, and now it was being put back together under President Clinton. While it was difficult to leave Shenandoah, it was exhilarating to begin life anew in the Virginia suburbs of Arlington. Nancy continued with her nursing career, this time in a totally different venue.  She answered an ad from the National Institutes of Health and got accepted to work with Dr. Anthony Fauci developing the “cocktail” of drugs that became the savior for a lot of young men around the world. She was most proud of the time she spent on Dr. Fauci’s team. In addition to her love of her work at NIH, she loved the drive west each day out the George Washington Memorial Parkway and north along the Beltway to Bethesda, Maryland where NIH was located. Thanks to Lady Bird Johnson, the District of Columbia and surrounding jurisdictions were awash in colors from Spring to Fall.

Washington also offered a wide array of travel opportunities in both Maryland and Virginia. It also made it easy to get to know Gerry’s family in the Boston suburbs where his mother lived and the Maritime Provinces of Eastern Canada where Gerry’s dad was from. Prince Edward Island was particularly attractive with its iron-rich soil and long sandy beaches.

But the mountains and Sound of western Washington were calling, in particular the fact that the kids were starting their own families. Moms can never resist that call. She would go back for the birthing process for 3 grandchildren, and that just made it harder to resist a move home.  Gerry was selected to be the Superintendent of Coulee Dam National Recreation Area with offices just uphill from the Grand Coulee Dam in eastern WA. While waiting to find a home in this rural area, they lived in a government house just above the dam. Each evening they would go to the dam and look down on the cascading water that was the “screen” for a laser light show called “I am the River Columbia.” Nancy joked about that forever as Gerry gave his most deep throated rendition of the narrative.

Electric City, where they lived, and the suburbs of Seattle were only a 4-hour drive, so they did it frequently, sometimes just Nancy but often the two of them. The drive was filled with spectacular scenery, much of the eastern part showing the after effects of the Ice Age Floods and the western part the after effects of continental drift. In between were wheat fields as far as the eye could see. Nancy frequently observed how different our lives had become in the blink of an eye; Arlington, Virginia to Electric City, Washington. You couldn’t argue with that.

Among Gerry’s assignments as Superintendent was to remove trespassers from government lands on the margins of Lake Roosevelt, notably those lands managed by the U. S. Bureau of Reclamation. Additionally, and equally important, it was his responsibility to protect the Native American artifacts, including grave sites, that were found off the 2 Indian reservations. Both assignments were doable only with cooperation of the parties involved. When Speaker of the House Tom Foley was unceremoniously ousted from his position by an upstart Republican freshman, the local picture became unreasonably muddied. For Gerry, it was time to move on. Nancy was, as always, optimistic about their future. As it turned out, she had good reason to be.  An old Park Service friend who Gerry had met working on Capitol Hill in DC was now the Director of Washington State Parks. Additionally, his Deputy was also an old “parky” who helped make the move possible. Nancy was beside herself with joy. She was finally getting her ultimate wish.

Nancy took full advantage of the move to Olympia. She was no longer the Superintendent’s wife with social engagements required. And let’s not forget that the animals were going home to the cool, damp side of the state. More importantly, she was going home to her friends and family. They were fortunate in finding a home that suited their needs and desires overlooking Budd Bay, the very southern tip of Puget Sound. Nancy was again in her element finding furniture and accent pieces that were perfectly matched.

Gerry settled in as the historic preservation officer for State Parks, the first in the agency’s long, storied history. He was now in his element with no dragons to slay, only resources to save. And it was reflected in Nancy’s outlook on life. They had moved all around the country, and now it was time to enjoy life with grandchildren and later great grandchildren within easy reach. No more red eyes across the country for key dates in their evolution. Life was good.

But not too good. First it was re-siding the house with a change of color added, then a complete remodel of the upstairs. Later, when there was the possibility that Nancy’s Mom, Fran, would come to live with them, there would be a total remodel of the basement. Unfortunately, that final move was not meant to be. “Nanna” was laid to rest beside her beloved Ted in the Oakland Hills overlooking San Francisco Bay.

Nancy, and to a lesser extent Gerry, started looking for a new home, closer to all “the kids.” Driving through Tacoma and Seattle was just too much hassle. They started looking at condos in Tacoma with breathtaking views of Mt. Rainier and the Olympics. The City was offering 10 years with no property taxes, and Chihuly’s glass museum right next to the Tacoma Art Museum.  For Charlie T, our beloved Terrierist, there even was Wright Park, a city park designed around a beautiful arboretum.

Even with all these reasons to settle down in Tacoma it didn’t feel right. Then their realtor asked Nancy if she had ever looked at Edmonds, a beautiful small town only a few miles north of Seattle and right on Puget Sound. Nancy came home that night and announced that they were moving to Edmonds. She didn’t know where for sure, only somewhere in Edmonds.

The rest was history, as they say. Virtually every day they were out and about one would interject how fortunate they had been to find their true final home.  It had everything one could hope for in a small, northwest town; a major hospital with others nearby, police and fire station within a couple blocks, churches for any and all denominations within easy walking distance, a major transportation hub including a ferry terminal leading to the Olympic Peninsula, an Amtrak station with trains to California, British Columbia, Chicago, and all points in between. One year they pulled their suitcases to the station and travelled to Chicago, Memphis, New Orleans, Orlando, and Boston meeting friends and family along the way.

One of Nancy’s many accomplishments in Edmonds was her volunteer work at the original Senior Center performing foot care. In the beginning staff provided their own work tools.  As time went on, the clientele numbers soon began to reflect the excellent care they received at a minimal cost. When there was a hiatus due to the removal of the original building and the construction of the new Waterfront Center, Nancy chose to move aside and let the more current and younger medical staff take her place. It was a bitter sweet departure, to be sure.

But her Lord had more important work for Nancy. Her life as a mother, grandmother, and great grandmother was soon to take a most unexpected and fateful turn. Within less than a week in late April, she went from a strong, vibrant woman to one fighting for her life in an ICU bed. The doctors never were able to identify the specific cause of her death, only that it was a pulmonary viral infection of some form. Whatever the cause, her passing was a major blow to all who truly loved her. She is survived by her best friend and devoted husband, Gerry; her daughter, Bonnie and husband, Rick Schwindt of Bothell, WA; son Mike Swift and his bride, Shannon of Carnation, WA; and 3 grandchildren and 3 great-grandchildren, all of western WA. A celebration of her life will follow at a time and place yet to be determined.

— By Gerry Tays

  1. What a wonderful tribute to your wife. I am so sorry for your loss and appreciate your acceptance. God works in ways we don’t understand sometimes and it can be hard for those left behind. Praying for strength and peace for you and your remarkable family.

  2. I volunteered with Nancy and Gerry at Edmonds Center for the Arts. Nancy was a lovely woman and full of grace. I will miss seeing her walk Charlie by the window of ECA, while Gerry and I were volunteering at the bar. My love to Gerry and his family.

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