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Disastrous Tesoro fire can’t separate couple

Kristin Griffith, her daughter Jordan and Matt Gumbel in a family photo last summer. - Submitted photo
Kristin Griffith, her daughter Jordan and Matt Gumbel in a family photo last summer.
— image credit: Submitted photo

Matt Gumbel and Kristin Griffith’s future looked very different last month.

Their 5-year-old daughter, Jordan, was on spring break visiting family. Matt and Kristin spent the week together visiting possible locations for their wedding next year, planned for June 11, 2011. Kristin had already selected a wedding dress and everything seemed to be falling into place.

That all changed at 12:30 a.m. April 2, when a terrible fire ripped through the Tesoro Refinery in Anacortes, killing five operators and seriously injuring two, Matt Gumbel of Oak Harbor and Lew Janz of Anacortes. Matt continues to progress; Lew passed away last week.

“Before the fire, I would say Matt and I considered ourselves luckier than most,” Griffith wrote in an email to the Whidbey News-Times. “We have an amazing relationship; I could not have picked a better partner or father.”

Last year the couple put down roots in the community when they purchased their dream home, where they’ve spent every free moment together entertaining friends and hosting barbecues.

Both are longtime Oak Harbor residents. Matt has spent all but 10 of his 34 years on the island; Kristin moved to Whidbey with her family in June 1996 when the Navy stationed both her parents in Oak Harbor.

Kristin took a job at Starbucks. It was there that she and Matt met almost four years ago when he came in for an evening cup of coffee.

“Matt had been testing to get hired on at the Shell Oil Refinery. He caught my eye,” she said. “The next day he came in with a regular customer who just so happened to be one of my favorites and it turned out Matt was his son. I expressed some interest and Paul, his father, got my number for him and the story goes on from there.”

In place of their family adventures to Rosario Beach and Fort Nugent Park, Kristin and Matt are now spending hours together at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

“I read to him pretty much all day in between doctor and nurse procedures,” Kristin said. “Right now I am reading the Percy Jackson series, which he had recommended to me so I figure he liked them well enough. He likes mysteries, historical novels and crime novels.”

When he’s in surgery she waits with the family, who are also staying in Seattle to be closer to Matt.

So far Kristin said Tesoro is taking very good care of her. But her time off work to be with Matt coupled with extra expenses for travel, lodging and other costs are adding up.

Matt is expected to stay in the intensive care for the next 60 to 90 days and remain at Harborview for the next year, where he’ll need many more surgeries and months of rehabilitation.

“We made the best of our time together and even though it will be a while, to be optimistic, soon enough we will begin our new lives together. This has been devastating but Matt will pull through this; our family and his family are by his side every step of this long journey,” Kristin said.

How to help

Andrea Grobey, the mother of Kristin Griffith’s best friend, has established the Kristin Griffith Benefit Fund at People’s Bank to help Kristin remain by Matt’s side while she’s on unpaid leave from Starbucks. To make a contribution, stop by the Oak Harbor branch of People’s Bank at 275 SE Pioneer Way, or call 679-7966.

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