Gail, gone

Gail Massy photographed at Lonsdale, Saatchi & Saatchi by Christine Punnett.
Photograph used by kind permission of the author.

Losing Gail Massy is a lot like losing a percussion instrument in a good band. The band can play on, but somehow, things never sound quite the same and the band never keeps the same tight rhythm it once had.
Who was this player? Most people knew Gail as a quiet, solid performer, someone who could be depended on to do exactly what she promised with skill, dutiful care and no small amount of talent.

An enormously private woman, you knew exactly as much about Gail as you needed to in order to work with her. I’d flown to St Vincent on assignment with her, sat around for hours waiting for clients to get their act together to be photographed throughout the country and a bit further in the past, watched her run one of the tightest sub-editors’desks in this country at a newspaper at the Express.

I think about Gail now, and I’m infuriated with myself because of how little I knew her. I know that I’m not alone.
Her employers would have liked her. She did her work efficiently and without fuss, meeting deadlines and managing staff with a skill that made her look as effortless as a hummingbird at a flower, every bit as beautiful and elegant and working just as hard to hover there, apparently help up by magic.

But the people that she worked with loved her. She had a remarkable ability to manage up as well as down, winning the respect and trust of her staff who admired her skills and appreciated her firm but generous manner.

She had the rare position in my life of overseeing the publication of the first two years of my column BitDepth when it began its life as a commentary column on the Express’columnist’s section and then again took a leading role in wrangling my photographs when I returned to professional photography full-time in 2005.

I know, without any doubt at all, that Gail pressed for my presence on several of those early jobs at the agency she worked for and I tried to reward her trust in me by doing my best, doing it promptly and giving her work that helped to build her department.
It was on one of those projects that I shared in two Addy wins and Gail’s early efforts at championing my work led to my winning and holding on to several accounts who continue to make use of my services to this day.

One of the last things that Gail did before she retired from Lonsdale Saatchi & Saatchi was to write and e-mail me a very kind and utterly unsolicited testimonial about the work we had done together.
Of course, I managed to lose it (along with pretty much all my e-mail from 2011) and I had to call her and ask if she could find and resend it.
It took a couple of weeks, but she did exactly that.

When I heard that she had passed away on Wednesday, the first thing I thought of was that phone call. I’d asked after her health, she’d brushed it off, gently but firmly, and promised to resend it if she could find it in her sent mailbox. A week later, it popped up again. I sent a short note thanking her and that was that.

When we spoke, it seemed like she had mentally added my request to a long to-do list she was working through.
I am so sure that many people had pretty much the same experience with Gail in these last few months of her life. Not the type of woman to chase a last ditch bucket list, Gail probably spent her time tidying her life and preparing for the worst possible outcome.

She was a staunch and steady friend to those that she welcomed into the fullness of her life. I know her friendship with Willys Marshall, a mutual friend, was a true and trusted one over the two decades that I’ve known them to be buddies.
I wasn’t in that circle, but the richness of my own relationship with Gail, who always rewarded a quick visit or a hail out with that big, bright, absolutely pleased smile, does not leave me envious.

Now, she is gone. That clear voice of purpose, that silencing sound of sanity that kept many projects on track when they were hellbent on derailing, is gone.

When this country needs more such cowbell, there is now, measurably less.
Your time with us was appreciated Gail Massy. We are all the richer and better for it.
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