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Hundreds bid farewell to Matt Gumbel

In the words of Marvin Reed, a former school teacher to Matt Gumbel: “Too young. Too soon. Too difficult. Too much to bear.”

Reed spoke of Matt’s premature death while reminiscing of his former student who “had his mother’s smile — winning smile — and his father’s quiet ways.”

More than 450 family members and friends packed both levels of the Oak Harbor High School performing arts center Saturday at a memorial service for Matt, one of seven Tesoro Refinery employees who died as a result of a fiery explosion April 2 at the Anacortes plant. He may only have lived 34 short years but Matt’s personality touched thousands of people, and the story of his struggle to survive for five weeks and one day after the incident reached across the nation and around the world.

Matt’s smile shone around the room on enlarged photographs and in dozens of images that flashed by on a big screen slide show. Stories with re-occuring themes of Matt’s quiet ways, compassion and love of fast cars were shared by his mother Shauna Gumbel, sister Amy Gumbel, uncle Jeff Miksell, fiance Kritin Griffith, friends and coworkers.

At the center of the stage, surrounded by flowers, a red Ferrari F-40 model rested atop Matt’s wooden urn.

“I didn’t know Matt as well as I knew some of the others,” confessed Steve Garey, one of Matt’s coworkers. Yet since the fire, Garey’s gotten to know the Gumbel family through conversations at the hospital and through a blog called CaringBridge.org.

“The night of the incident he showed such strength and spirit and character to protect himself and find shelter. That strength of spirit and character, it’s so obvious that it comes from the family. I want to thank you for teaching us, Gumbels, for how to share not just grief, but hope. And how to be not just better people, but better citizens in our community. I can’t forget Matt because I cannot forget the Gumbels,” Garey said.

Matt’s sister Amy described the way her brother embraced his friends just like he would his own flesh and blood.

“We were always there for each other when it counted. That’s what it means to be family,” she said. “And he was like that with everyone. Not just me. Everyone.”

His passing is not and never will be easy, she said. However, the community can honor Matt by remembering his life.

“I won’t offer anyone my apologies or condolences and I don’t want them in return. But I will offer my memories. Memories of what happened, of the stories that I’ve heard. About the other people that were lost. Memories of my brother and a promise that I won’t ever forget,” she said. “Don’t ask me how I’ll make it through him being gone. Ask me how we shared the time we had. “

Amy thanked the people who helped Matt after the fire and gave the Gumbels more time with their loved one.

“They gave me three more weeks with my brother. ... They gave all of us that gift and a chance to say goodbye.”

It’s that struggle to survive, and the Gumbels’ embrace of the community, that may have left the greatest impression, Pastor David Engle said.

“Part of Matt’s greatest legacy to our community, to all of you, to me, is as he struggled ... he fought that good fight so many of you described,” he said.

“Matt has left a legacy and it’s one that he hadn’t expected to. But it’s one that is greater than he’d ever dreamed would be possible.

“Matt didn’t intent to touch the whole community, the whole state, the whole nation and even other countries, but the lord had other plans,” Engle said.

Andy Kline, a childhood friend since age 7, will forever miss Matt’s steadfast friendship.

“He was a great listener. He was a very strong, strong man. He didn’t show it very often but the man was a rock, an absolute rock. And being that rock, he was kind of a cornerstone to me,” Kline said. “That cornerstone is now removed and there will forever be a draft there in that corner of my life now because Matt Gumbel is gone.”

The memorial service, which began at 2 p.m., continued until 6 at the high school, then moved to the home of Paul and Shauna Gumbel.

With one simple example, sister Amy blessed Matt’s trip to heaven and summed up his ability to enrich the lives of those around him.

“My parents taught me how to drive, but my brother taught me how to enjoy it. So drive fast, Matt, because there’s no tickets in Heaven.”

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