Gayle E. Rhoads: The Final Chapter
Gayle photographed circa 1998, during the winter holidays on the north side of the Loma Linda Academy Campus. This image was taken during the "indian summer" of his life. He is shooting photos with a '60s vintange Zeiss Ikon Contaflex Super BC.
This is the end of the story. (For the rest, click here.) Gayle thought he was retiring in 1996. At that time, he could look back on a successful career and a full life. When he addressed the Loma Linda Academy graduating class of '96, he said:
But the door didn't close, the lock didn't snap, and Gayle didn't retire. He was asked to serve for two more years as the elementary school principal, so he retired again in July of 1998. This was Gayle's entrance into the brief "indian summer" of his life. Even then, Loma Linda Academy asked him to continue serving part-time as the school's archivist, which he did. His third office on the campus was over the industrial arts building (renamed "Rhoads Hall" in 2002) and up a formidable flight of blue stairs. It was fabulously decorated with his antique furniture, and photos of LLA graduates hung in profusion on the walls. He enjoyed spending evenings corresponding with his large circle of friends. Some people just have more friends than others. Gayle was one of them.
As an experienced principal in the Adventist school system, we're fortunate that Gayle recorded some of life's lessons on his computer around this time. Here is his Advice to School Principals and A Simple Counselor's Guide. He also penned this 45-point Instructions for Life for youths. It's an insight into the values of the man and his generation. Number 12, however, was unique to Gayle: "Talk slow, but think quick." He was notorious for his pregnant pauses while speaking--they furnished parody material for his students. But he once commented that nothing galvanizes an audience's wandering attention like unexpected silence from the presenter.
At this same time, Gayle started a self-imposed cognitive improvement program. He memorized a number of his favorite poems, such as "Western Hills" and "High Flight," which he taped to the side of an olive-colored file cabinet next to his desk. Gayle also added to his formidible vocabulary by learning more words. One flash card in particular remained on his desk for months: "vertiginous" (a state of dizziness). In retrospect, the word was a harbinger. By September 1998, Gayle had started to change gradually. He was becoming more quiet, cautious, and introspective. He commented once around this time that he felt he was losing himself. One imagines a change of apparence, too, as in this photo taken in his LLA archive office in April 1999. When his dog died on June 14, 1999, he wept disconsolately, which was rare for him.
Was this merely the aging process? Since his physicians had recently changed a number of his medicines, a drug interaction was suspected. The problem was actually a brain cancer, almost certainly a reactivation of his cancer from five years earlier. The new cancer was discovered on August 14, 1999. BJ purchased the family's fourth black poodle before Gayle underwent surgery a few days later on August 25. After recovering from the surgery, he rallied. He typed letters on his computer. He visited with friends. He even walked around a market, pushing his wheelchair--a feat that seems fantastic in retrospect. Then came the radiation treatments in October and November of 1999. We discovered later that radiation was standard medical procedure because of the 30% chance that the cancer could recur. Yet radiation dosages are calculated on averages, and time revealed that the calculated dosage was more than Gayle's body could tolerate. In retrospect, it would have been better to have taken those chances, because the radiation destroyed his ability to learn, and vanquished his personality. A stoic remnant of the man remained, apparently free from pain and emotions. His last four years passed quietly, in his home, with his wife and new poodle at his side. The end came the morning of April 28, 2003. A memorial marked his passing the next day. He's buried at Cherokee Memorial Park, close to Lodi Academy, where he spent what he called his "generous years." For the rest of his story, click here...
Gayle in wheelchair, contemplating a spectacular sherbert-colored evening sky from the driveway of his Inland Empire house, circa 2002.