Suzanne Tobias

Funeral goodie bags? Silly salute honored a man who knew how to have fun

Gale Chinn could befriend anyone, from toddlers to elderly people. He took a genuine interest in them. He listened to them, joked with them, made them feel special.
Gale Chinn could befriend anyone, from toddlers to elderly people. He took a genuine interest in them. He listened to them, joked with them, made them feel special. Courtesy photo

If you had happened upon the private party at a local brewery this week, you probably wouldn’t have guessed it was a funeral.

First, the DJ spinning ’80s tunes and the Cuban Shuffle would have thrown you off. There were free-flowing craft beers and deep trays of barbecue, baked beans and that slaw-salad stuff with Ramen noodles that everybody loves.

There were bags of Cheetos and bowls of peanut M&Ms and a photographer shooting pictures of smiling guests with arms around each other’s shoulders.

There were goodie bags.

And balloons.

And Gale Chinn would have loved it.

Gale died of cancer way too soon. Just 50 years old, he left parents, a wife, two kids and thousands of people who called him friend.

They worked with him at aircraft companies, went to church with him, played Ingress or video games with him, cheered alongside him at swim meets and volleyball matches, hung out in his garage, drank beer when he invited them over to try something new or funky, which was often.

At his memorial service, a longtime friend marveled at how Gale could befriend anyone, from toddlers to elderly people. He took a genuine interest in them, she said. He listened to them, joked with them, made them feel special.

“Gale was whoever you needed him to be,” she said.

Later that day, at the brewery celebration, Gale’s wife recalled how she avoided sending him to the grocery store because the trip never took less than a couple hours. He’d see someone he knew — or four people, or seven — and he’d have to chat for a while.

At times, she resented it. Gale’s wide circle of friends and acquaintances seemed a curse, not a blessing, Danielle said, because they stole precious time from his family.

During Gale’s final days, while at home under hospice care, the visitation calendar on his Caring Bridge website was booked solid, all those friends scrambling to squeeze in 15-minute or half-hour blocks with “The Chinnman.” The family welcomed them with patience and grace.

Looking around the patio at the smorgasbord of people who gathered to celebrate Gale’s life — neighbors, church friends, work friends, gamers — Danielle said she finally got it:

Gale’s gift was the way he brought people together. He always took time to ask about others, and he never took himself too seriously. His faith in God wasn’t arrogant or preachy, but subtle and welcoming, a beacon of kindness and genuine concern.

At one point during the party, Danielle directed us to grab balloons from the tabletop goodie bags, blow them up and hold them in our hands. This would be no ordinary balloon release, where we’d send helium-filled balloons floating majestically into the sky.

At the count of three, we let go of balloons filled with our own hot breath and watched them shoot around crazily, bouncing off heads, hitting patio umbrellas and making that farting noise that sends kids into fits of laughter.

It was, we all thought, a fitting remembrance.

Suzanne Perez Tobias: 316-268-6567, @suzannetobias

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