The loving and kind life of Gael Mullen Harris, 70, of Missoula, Montana, ended on a beautiful summer day, June 24, 2023, at home, surrounded by family. For the past six years she suffered but fought Alzheimer's disease and Squamous Cell Carcinoma, pulling the most out of each day and actively loving all of her family along the way.
Born on Galveston Island, Texas to Dr. Andrew Judson Mullen, and Geraldine Wallace Mullen, Abigail was the middle child of a big Southern family. Nicknamed Gael, like the Scottish highland winds, she grew up in Mobile, Alabama; Biloxi, Mississippi and Gainesville, Florida before her mother, then divorced, relocated the family to Oxnard, California.
Gael went through middle school in Southern California before returning to Shreveport, Louisiana to join her father and family.
She graduated from Captain Shreve High School in 1970, when she obtained her private pilot's license. She flew throughout her life, even taking her children into the Montana skies as she piloted the aircraft.
Always a good student, athlete and adventurer, Gael fled the Deep South to find her next adventure in Montana, when in the fall of 1970 she arrived at the University of Montana with only a suitcase, delivered by taxi in front of Jesse Hall. It was at UM where she said she escaped the Magnolia Curtain and the ugly racism that had erupted at the time.
Gael joined Kappa Alpha Theta Sorority and cherished her Theta sisters her whole life. She graduated with a bachelor's degree of arts with high honors in political science and was accepted and enrolled as a law student at Cumberland School of Law in Samford, Alabama, thinking she would return to the Mullen homeland and work as a civil rights lawyer. She didn't leave Montana until September 1974 because she worked at the Bonner Mill that summer, sweeping sawdust, waiting for Second Lieutenant Douglas Harris to complete his military training. Doug and Gael really connected their senior year at UM. Or, Gael finally relented to Doug's persistent courting, the fire of which is known only to his Sigma Chi Fraternity brothers.
As the Vietnam War persisted but was winding down, Doug and Gael took a deep breath and concluded their life together should begin. Gael withdrew from law school, married Doug, and they spent the next four years at US Army posts; Fort Lewis, Washington; Fort Benning, Georgia; Fort Huachuca, Arizona and Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Never idle, Gael won tennis championships at all locations, and she found her calling as a special education teacher. Gael taught Vietnamese refugees English, and she taught adult basic education to the hordes of retired and disabled Veterans.
All while doing this, she obtained her master's degree in public administration from Webster College in St. Louis, Missouri that had a campus at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The next post for Doug and Gael was Gonzaga University School of Law in Spokane, Washington in 1978. Gael again taught adult students with disabilities. She had two children, Judson and Lauren, in 1979 and 1981, respectively. She won more tennis tournaments, too.
Gael and family pined to return to Montana and did so in late 1982, where they spent the next six years in Bozeman as Doug practiced law and Gael mothered at home, adding Jenny and Grace to the squad in 1984 and 1986, respectively. Finding Bozeman simply too far from their refuge at Lindbergh Lake, Doug and Gael packed up children in their station wagons, left Bozeman, and planted themselves in the middle of Missoula. It was in Missoula that Doug practiced law and Gael ran the camp. They added one more little chick, Shelby Lee, born in 1992.
True to form, when kids were safely embedded and thriving in Missoula County Public Schools, Gael returned to helping those on the margins as a Teen Parent Case Coordinator with the Human Resource Council, serving Willard and Sentinel High Schools.
A faithful Episcopalian to her core, Gael raised her children in the Holy Spirit Episcopal Parish and she served on the Altar Guild for many years. Both as a matter of faith and to surveil her children at Sunday school.
Lindbergh Lake, like the Episcopal Church, was Gael's sanctuary. She raised five children catching frogs, snakes and fish and always found reverence in the call of a Loon and summer thunderstorms on the front porch. It was there the Harris kids learned life's most precious skills - that a little dirt is okay, nothing is sweeter than a July huckleberry, bear grass brings good luck, and a cold plunge can cure just about anything.
Lindbergh friends were a second family to Gael and she deeply cherished the years of friendship and visits on the dock, with a drink in hand.
Her life was a clearly written page of a Montanan mother, teacher and friend; Southern grit, charm and elegance in her adopted Rocky Mountain homeland.
Gael is preceded in death by stepsister Connie Mullen and stepbrother Thomas S. Mitchell (Susan).
She is survived by husband Douglas Harris and siblings Debora Mullen (David) of San Diego, CA; Dr. Andrea Mullen (Nancy), of Los Angeles, CA; Shawn Mullen of Leesburg, FL and Ally Logan (Carolyn) of Missoula, MT. Stepbrothers include Michael Mitchell (Sarah) of Lafayette, LA and Tommy Mullen Nelson of Eustis, FL.
Her loving children include: Judson Stuart Harris (Shannon) and their daughter Fallon (2); Lauren Deforest Hummel (Karl) and their daughters Charlotte (11) and Amelia (5); Jenny Mullen Lavey (John) and their sons Samuel (10) and Wesley (7); Grace Harris Gardner (Landon) and their son Sawyer (5) and daughter Hazel (2) and Shelby Lee Harris (Sam).
Cremation has taken place. A memorial service followed by interment and reception will be at Holy Spirit Episcopal Church on Friday, June 30th at 1 p.m. Memorials may be made to the University of Montana Foundation and Holy Spirit Parish Memorial.
"She opens her mouth with wisdom and in her tongue is the law of kindness." - Proverbs 31:26
All honor to her name.