Longtime Eastham resident Gail Hoffman, a former director of nursing at Bournewood Hospital in Brookline, died peacefully on Nov. 23, 2023 at Broad Reach Hospice (Liberty Commons) in Chatham. She had suffered a stroke after a period of declining health. Gail was 88.
The daughter of John Alfred Stevens and Elizabeth Fernstrom Stevens, Gail was born on May 9, 1935 in Pawtucket, R.I. She grew up in a modest home in Seekonk, where the family had a goat and some chickens.
After graduating from high school in East Providence in 1953, Gail graduated from Roger Williams School of Nursing in 1956, where she was class president. She later earned an M.Ed. from Cambridge College.
Gail worked as a registered nurse for 37 years, mostly at Bournewood Hospital. Her specialty was mental health nursing, said her daughter, Susan, and she was instrumental in helping the hospital transition from relying on electroconvulsive therapy to more targeted pharmacological treatment.
Gail was respected for her support of hospital staff and the families of patients. She oversaw staff and program development when Mass. Gov. Michael Dukakis declared 1984 “Bournewood Hospital Year.” In 1989 she was appointed director of nursing.
In 1957 Gail married David Hoffman. The couple had a son and daughter, and along with Gail’s sister, Nancy Carlson, and her children, they began to vacation each summer in the Campground Beach area of Eastham in the early 1960s. Susan recalls those summers fondly.
“We would spend the morning at Coast Guard Beach,” she said, “afternoons at the bay, and we’d walk the sand flats.”
Gail became attached to Eastham during those summers, and in 1989 she and David bought a house on Dyer Prince Road near Rock Harbor, a half mile from the bay. When they divorced later that year, Gail kept the house, and over the next decade, “I rented it in the summer to gain money to finish the interior and pay the mortgage,” she wrote in the memoir she composed at age 75. “I bought furniture from yard sales.”
“In 1999, at age 63, I retired,” Gail wrote. “I remember driving to the Cape, sitting in the sunshine on the deck steps, and crying with utter joy. This was all mine! I would walk to the beach, singing ‘Amazing Grace.’ ”
Gail prepared for her life in Eastham before she retired by taking summer courses at the Boston Museum School and by taking drawing and painting courses with Boston artists. “She had painted in oils, mainly still lifes, when she was young,” said Susan, “and when she returned to painting in retirement, she did Cape landscapes in oil.” Gail wrote in her memoir, “For years I enjoyed painting; however, I found that I liked viewing artists’ good work even more.”
And Gail found plenty of good art to admire on the Outer Cape. She served as a docent at the Cape Cod Museum of Art in Dennis for many years, and she taught classes about the Provincetown Art Colony to Road Scholar groups visiting the Cape. She also traveled with her sister on Road Scholar trips to Europe to deepen her knowledge of art.
Gail served two terms on the Eastham Human Services Advisory Board, from 2003 to 2009, which brought her into contact with nonprofit agencies on the Cape; she served on the Orleans Arts Committee; and she was active in conservation efforts for the land that borders the marsh and bay on the Eastham side of Rock Harbor.
“There always seemed to be proposals to build on the end of her dead-end road,” Susan said. Gail wanted especially to protect “Dog Beach,” a bit of land on the edge of the marsh popular with dog walkers in the know.
Gail was also a citizen volunteer with Mass Audubon’s efforts to rescue diamondback sea turtles that nested at the creek near her home. If a sea turtle wandered onto the road, she would call for help.
Soon after retiring, Gail began attending the Chapel in the Pines, a small congregation affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Association in Eastham. She served as a program coordinator, organizing weekly nondenominational events, many of them featuring naturalists, art historians, poets, steel drummers, and others highlighting the people and culture of the Outer Cape.
She took great pride in seeking out anyone involved in what makes Cape Cod unique and having them address the community. Gail had a special ability to welcome new members and keep them returning and engaged. During Covid she led outdoor story circles and organized community walks.
“Time has allowed me to define religion for myself,” Gail wrote. “I do not embrace any dogma. The great mystery of all life supports me. Buddhism offers me a way to be in the world. I have been attending the Unitarian chapel in town, enjoying their discussions. Here I find community. And, I have embraced solitude.”
Gail is survived by her brother, Donald Stevens of Barrington, R.I.; son David Hoffman and wife Lisa of Austin, Texas; daughter Susan Adams and husband Malcolm of Athens, Ga.; and grandchildren Kenneth, Robert, and Hilary Adams.
She was predeceased by her sister, Nancy Carlson, of Eastham.
A memorial gathering will take place at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 17 at the Chapel in the Pines in Eastham.
Donations in Gail’s memory may be made to the Nauset Fellowship at the Chapel in the Pines, on their website, or mailed to P.O. Box 831, Eastham 02642.