"A beautiful soul is never forgotten." -Anonymous
Dear Palm Valley Community,
It is with a heavy heart and mind that I am writing to you today to let you know that Gail Gordon Kocen passed away last week. Gail has been a long time and beloved member of our community for many years. She was known to many at Palm Valley in her roles as a parent, a volunteer, a former Parent Association President, a Trustee, and most recently, as our immediate past Board President. Despite recently stepping down in her role as Chair, Gail had planned to remain devoted to our Board as Chair Emerita wherein her institutional knowledge and strong leadership could continue to help support and strengthen our school.
Gail was an incredible woman, a dedicated wife and mother, and a caring friend. She was completely devoted to the raising and nurturing of her two incredible boys, Sam ('15) and David ('17), and a loving wife to her husband, Bryan. The Kocen family's unwavering support of Palm Valley School is unparalleled. Gail and Bryan helped establish and have continued to support the Boy Scout Troop on our campus, and both the Kocen children graduated as "lifers" from Palm Valley and have matriculated to top-tier schools on the east coast. Gail's leadership in our school community as our past Board Chair was invaluable and a critical part of our success during some of the most challenging times that Palm Valley School has experienced in its 65-year history. Her specific contributions are too numerous to count but include several that Gail personally championed to fruition: the building of our Upper School, the expansion of our AP offerings and College Counseling department, the re-branding efforts following the merger, overseeing the hiring of two Heads of School, the Strategic Planning process for our Vision 2020, the successes in our Early Childhood Program, improvements in our curriculum mapping and changes to programming, and most recently, the push for diversity initiatives including our SEED project participation, and the creation of our Board Committee on Equity and Justice. Her service to Palm Valley School was tireless, and her leadership was a shining example of how board governance in an independent NAIS School should be. She was a consummate learner; those of us privileged enough to serve alongside Gail in any capacity enjoyed learning from and with her. She had an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and for applying that to any organization or team she was a part of.
Gail was also a dear friend, mentor, and role model to many in our community. I was always so touched to see Gail engaging in the mentoring of students in their college pursuits, offering advice or support to other parents and families at the school, or in always finding time to talk through a problem and to give feedback to me or other Trustees, Faculty, and Administrators in need. Her sense of giving and care for all members of the school community was tremendous. She touched the lives of so many in so many different ways. She will be remembered fondly for her constant smile, for always having a kind word for someone in need, for her genuine and infectious laugh, and for her tireless efforts to make the world a better place wherever she saw a need.
When her son David was graduating from Palm Valley in 2017, her speech at our ceremony that year centered around a favorite book of hers called "The Gift of an Ordinary Day: A Mother's Memoir" by Katrina Kenison. Gail often spoke about how this book had shaped not only her approach to mothering her two boys, but also to how she moved through her daily life. I am the fortunate recipient of a copy of this book, a gift from Gail on the occasion of my daughter Marcella's baby shower. Many things in the book speak deeply to me as a mother, as a woman, and as a busy professional juggling so many roles and expectations in our society. It's now a favorite of mine and will serve to remind me of so many things Gail said and did, but also of her wisdom in seeking what we all value and want for all our children, our families, and our communities.
“When we focus on what is good and beautiful in someone, whether or not we think that they “deserve” it, the good and the beautiful are strengthened merely by the light of our attention.”
“Not a day goes by that I don't still need to remind myself that my life is not just what's handed to me, nor is it my list of obligations, my accomplishments or failures, or what my family is up to, but rather it is what I choose, day in and day out, to make of it all.”
- Katrina Kenison, The Gift of an Ordinary Day: A Mother's Memoir
Our hearts and thoughts are with her family today: her two sons Sam and David, her husband Bryan, and her parents, siblings, and extended family. There will be a celebration of life for Gail coming soon, and we at Palm Valley School will be looking to establish ways to recognize the legacy that Gail leaves behind. However, until such an announcement is made, we ask that you please remember Gail in your own way and keep her family and loved ones in your thoughts and prayers. We will all be mourning this loss for some time to come, but I believe that Gail would want us to remember the gifts she left us and to remind ourselves to live our best lives by celebrating our own families and community. To practice gratitude. To embrace the "ordinary day" and to “choose what you make of it all.” Today, I will choose to enjoy every moment with my own children and family and to focus on what is "good and beautiful" in others. I believe that is what Gail would have wanted.
Thank you, Gail, for everything you have given us.
With sadness and gratitude,
Head of School