Donald Christian Gillis, affectionately known as “Donnie,” passed away April 26, 2021 in Chandler, Arizona at the age of 73.
Donnie was born March 8, 1948 in Anacortes, Washington, the second of five children to Donald “Joe” Gillis and Elizabeth Gillis.
As a child of a Naval Officer he moved around a bit living in Coupeville, Washington; Edmonds, Wash.; Richland, Wash.; and even as far as the state of Kansas before finally settling in Walla Walla, Wash. where he graduated from DeSales High School in 1966.
With an exceptional work ethic from a very young age, Donnie worked hard every day to provide for those he loved. He excelled in sports and was always upbeat, funny, and very charming. You were merely a “Knuckle Head Newt” if you ever were to make him wonder about you. He is remembered for his kindness and compassion as well.
At the age of 19 he married his high school sweetheart Susan Crawford and later joined the U.S. Navy where he instructed aviation mechanics at Miramar, California.
After his Honorable Discharge from the Navy he packed up his wife and newborn son to return to Walla Walla, Wash. where he successfully completed courses at Walla Walla Community College to become a Paramedic/Firefighter at the Walla Walla Fire Department. There, too, Donnie did an outstanding job and excelled until an on-the-job injury forced an early retirement.
Embarking on the next chapter in his life, he once again packed up his young family, now with two sons, to Port Townsend, Wash.
After some short stints at a bank and a title company, Donnie found his next career at the nearby Naval Magazine Indian Island. A dedicated father, he was involved with his sons’ youth sports and enjoyed taking them along on numerous fishing trips. The Gillis family home he so worked hard to provide was the gathering place for extended family, and a sanctuary for those who needed it.
With his sons grown up, he and his wife Sue ended up parting ways. He then decided from his years of experience working as Chief Environmental Officer and Natural Resources Manager at Indian Island to transfer to the Aleutian Island of Adak, Alaska where he oversaw the clean-up and closure of the naval base there. It was during that time that Donnie was given the name “Guy Yook Tuk” from the people of the Inupiat Tribe he worked alongside. This name translates to “Fox swimming upstream.” Donnie was not sure if this was complimentary or not so he asked about it directly to one of the elder women of the tribe. His response? Giggles.
Once the task was complete in Adak, Donnie continued his career as Chief Environmental Officer and Natural Resources Manager at the U.S. Army Chemical Depot in Umatilla, Oregon, once again to oversee the clean-up and closure of that base. During his 15 years there he was notably instrumental in the efforts to ensure the survival of the Western Burrowing Owl playing a key role in the design, and installation of what he liked to call “Owl Condos.” Those efforts were widely recognized and Donnie along with the Umatilla Depot received the prestigious U.S. Fish and Wildlife National Military Conservation Award.
When Donnie moved back to Oregon to work at the Chemical Depot he also briefly lived and worked on his Ranch in Boardman, Ore. However, his life was soon to change upon meeting his love Valerie Ehrich in Pasadena, California while visiting dear friends. They got married on a steamboat on the Columbia River and created a beautiful life together, never looking back.
Upon Donnie’s much deserved retirement from the workforce, he and Valerie would then split their time between their homes near Hat Rock State Park, Ore., and Maricopa, Arizona. Donnie would live out his years very very happily with their beloved cat and dog sprinkled between his loving acts of service to his friends, family, and community. Truly a great man who lived a great life. We love you, Donnie. Thank you.
Donnie was preceded in death by his parents Donald and Elizabeth Gillis, and his older brother Father Roger Gillis.
He is survived by his two sons Peter Gillis and Daniel Gillis; his two younger sisters Hallie Kruger, and Veronica Passmore; one younger brother William Gillis; his wife Valerie Gillis; one granddaughter Francis Sherley; along with numerous nieces and nephews that he loved very much.t