Dr. Gail Eliot died peacefully on Dec. 1, surrounded by friends and family, after suffering from Alzheimer’s disease for several years. A lifelong physician, tireless helper of people ill or in need, righter of wrongs — Gail lived her life never afraid (or reluctant) to step in where she believed her help was needed.
Gail was born in Queens, N.Y., in 1940 to optometrist John Randel, a descendant of the famed surveyor of New York City, and Aslaug Følling, a nurse who immigrated to the U.S. from Norway. The family moved to Tuckahoe, N.Y., where she attended Eastchester High School. After graduating from NYU, she began nursing school, at the time the expected path for a woman interested in medicine. It wasn’t long, however, before she became convinced that gender shouldn’t be a barrier to becoming a physician, and switched to medical school. She graduated from the New Jersey College of Medicine (now part of Rutgers) in 1967, one of the few women in her graduating class. Gail interned for a year at the VA Hospital in East Orange, N.J., then completed her residency in radiology at St. Luke’s Hospital in New York City in 1971, where, according to the director of the program, “she enjoyed the detective aspect of radiology.”
Meanwhile she married Bruce Eliot, a handsome and funny radio announcer employed by WOR in New York, 20 years her senior, who was her husband for 48 years. In 1965 they moved to Bloomfield, N.J., and she had two children, Gretchen and Inga, while still in medical school.
In 1972 she accepted a position as the radiologist at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital after filling in for an ailing Dr. Levene during the previous winter. The hospital was still very small, and at that time she was the only female physician. For several years she traveled to Massachusetts General in Boston on Wednesdays to attend rounds and learn from other radiologists as a “clinical assistant,” an arrangement she considered a tremendous and unusual opportunity. One thing she especially loved about working in this small Island community was the close connections she had to her patients, many of whom she knew personally.
She was also a strong advocate for women’s health. In 1977 an obstetrician was not available on Martha’s Vineyard, and women who needed specialized prenatal care were required to travel off-Island. At the time, she was pregnant with her third child and planning to give birth in Boston. She delivered her son Jonathan on the Vineyard after realizing traveling in labor was not a practical option. Afterward, she made it her mission to find funding, and successfully brought the first ob-gyn to Martha’s Vineyard.
In 1981 Gail and family moved back to New Jersey, and she joined the staff at the teaching hospital UMDNJ-NJMS in Newark, N.J. As director of the residency program, she loved working with the residents, always bending over backward to help them study, or helping arrange contacts and fellowships. In 1992 she completed a mammography fellowship at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, Pa., and returned to UMDNJ as director of mammography, where she remained until 1995. From 1995 until her retirement in 2011, she served as director of the Chilton Hospital Comprehensive Breast Center in Pompton Plains, N.J.
During her years in New Jersey she continued to travel back and forth to her home on Martha’s Vineyard with her husband Bruce, who died in 2010 at age 90. She retained a strong presence in the community, frequently visited by Island residents concerned about an x-ray or mammogram and seeking advice and/or a second opinion. She was an active member of the Federated Church in Edgartown, and always especially enjoyed the beautiful music at the services. She loved her flower gardens, playing the piano, and enjoying the beautiful view of the horses behind her house at Sweetened Water Farm.
In addition to her husband, Gail was predeceased by her brothers, Jack Randel of Lakeville, Pa., and Paul Randel, of Lajas, Puerto Rico. She is survived by her daughter Gretchen and husband Matt, with grandchildren Eva and Erik Faber and Nate and Brett Regan; her daughter Inga and husband Jack, with grandchildren Wyatt and Sierra Koeppe; and her son Jonathan and wife MaryAnn, with grandchildren Allison and Bruce Eliot. A memorial service will be held at the Federated Church in Edgartown in 2019.
Chapman, Cole and Gleason Funeral Home has been entrusted with Gail’s services. For online condolences, please visit ccgfuneralhome.com.