Gail Elizabeth Belcher (nee Parsons, formerly Petrillo), of Toronto, Ontario

Posted by on February 17, 2019

On Friday, February 15, 2019, Gail Belcher (nee Parsons, formerly Petrillo) passed away peacefully at St. John hospice, in Vancouver, BC, surrounded by love and support.  This followed from a long, brave struggle with cancer.  Those around Gail know her as a person of bright spirit, strong character, and positive outlook; these are qualities she maintained each day of her illness.

Gail was born April 22, 1944, and grew up in Toronto, Ontario.  The daughter of Dorothy (Dottie) and Gord Parsons, she had the companionship of her older brother, James Parsons, and the regular company of her dear cousin, Jeffrey.  In the 1940s, the family lived in Roseneath Gardens in Toronto, and then moved to Botfield Avenue in Etobicoke, Ontario, in the 1950s.  At the age of 18, she became a Nursing student at Wellesley College Hospital.  As the Wellesley Class of 1965, they were a strong group of women who shaped nursing in the years to come, and they have stayed in touch as dear friends through the years.

In the 1960s, Gail was known for her hand-sewn mini-dresses and incredible fashion sense.  Equally attuned to the fashions of the time, dashing Leonard Philip Petrillo, soon-to-be-lawyer, met and, soon, married Gail.  They had a tiny apartment, decorated with low-cost handiwork, and had a great group of friends.  Many of these friendships continue; Sharon visited Gail in February 2019.  Her cousin, Jeff, and wife, Monica, visited with Gail every year.  Margaret, who has known Gail for over 50 years, and her, now, husband, Peter have been in touch with both Len and Gail as they all watched their children grow up.

Len and Gail had their first child in September, 1969, Larissa Suzanne Petrillo.  Matthew Gordon was born in 1971.  The family lived in Etobicoke, Ontario, with family trips to Florida, and many family get together’s with Dottie and Gord, and Len’s parents, Bernice and Philip.  While her children were young, Gail stayed at home and baked magical birthday cakes, created imaginative parties and games, and taught them to love learning and creating.  Once they were in school, she went to the University of Toronto, earning her Bachelor of Science degree, and began a career in nursing education and child and youth psychiatry, starting with work at the Clarke Institute of Psychiatry.

In the 1990s, Len and Gail separated, with everyone living in downtown Toronto, in Cabbagetown.  Gail went on to work at the Youthdale Treatment Centre and worked alongside another gifted child-care worker, Charles Belcher.  Each brings different skill sets to their work with children; they both solved difficult issues for children in Toronto and Vancouver.  After a trip to Capetown, South Africa, to visit Gail’s dear friend, Ruth, Gail and Charles decided to move to Vancouver in 1994.  They went on to work at Children’s Hospital in Vancouver, meeting talented people that remained in their lives, including Joyce who visited Gail every week in her final months.  Gail worked in Adolescent and Child Psychiatry, and finally as the Nurse Educator of the Mental Health Division, eventually retiring.

After retirement, Gail went to Sri Lanka with Rose Charities Canada to help children recover from the trauma of the tsunami.  This began her volunteer work, which continued with time spent with the wonderful children at Az-Zahraa Islamic Center.  Following from Charles’s Muslim faith, the two have spent many years at Az-Zahraa with the incredible community of men and women.  After a ceremony at the mosque, on February 16th, Sister Zahra (Gail) was buried at Vedder View Gardens Cemetery in Chilliwack, B.C., surrounded by the loving support of Sister Sukaina and many dedicated sisters and brothers.

Gail’s spirit and creativity survives through her grandson, Nigel, son of Larissa and her husband, Jason Goto.  The two shared a love of nature and a gift for storytelling, both seeing the positive in the world around them.  She was a mother to many around her, gathering people and opening her doors to host dinners and celebrations.  Through her husband, Charles, Gail has become grandmother to Jalica, Miles, Dallas, and the growing family of Charles’s children in Vancouver, Toronto, and New Jersey.  She has spent summers visiting the family in New Jersey, enjoying garden parties in the backyards of Charles’s mother and relatives.  Her energy and spirit spanned many communities, and she stayed connected with her extended family in Newfoundland with a grand trip in 2018, organized by her dear cousin Suzanne.

Diagnosed with breast cancer 13 years ago, Gail surrounded herself with those who could support her already positive outlook.  Gail was active even in her illness, going for drives along the beach, and visiting the movie theatre, and her final illness really only caught up to her in the last two weeks of her life.  The professionals that Gail has met through her experiences with cancer have been a very important part of her life.  The women at the non-profit Callanish Society introduced her to writing, and she began to write of angels.  Co-founder of Callanish, Janie said: ‘We can make our lives and our deaths matter by the compassionate ways we care for ourselves and one another.’  Gail would have taken that message to heart, and could be seen to demonstrate that in her approach to those around her.  Charles was an unfailing support, her strongest caregiver, and constantly by her side.

We welcome all those who knew Gail to join her friends and family in a celebration of her life.  We will have two events.

On Sunday, February 17th, please feel free to join a gathering of Gail’s friends and family.  The memorial gathering will be at Jay and Larissa’s home, 3843 Heather Street in Vancouver, 2:30-6PM.

On Tuesday, April 23rd, 2019, please join us for a memorial service at the Canadian Memorial United Church in Vancouver at 1825 W. 16th Avenue at 5PM.  This event occurs the day after Gail’s birthday and Earth Day.

Please visit Gail’s slideshow:





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