Stephanie Gawboy, the 52-year-old Redway woman whose death earlier this month is being investigated as a homicide, was remembered by those who knew her as a dedicated and articulate activist, a spiritual seeker and a skilled massage therapist.
She was also, apparently, something of a character.
“She had a unique view of the world and of reality. She saw things differently,” recalled Al “Owl” Ceraulo, a local actor and playwright who was a neighbor of Gawboy’s and “went with her,” as he put it, for a couple of years in the 1990s. “If a problem presented itself, she’d get a unique view on that problem.”
Sometimes her take on things would get expressed in sober terms, such as when she was writing a letter to the editor on the issue that had most concerned her in recent years — GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) agriculture.
Other times, like when a client would come to her badly needing a massage, she would adopt a lighter approach.
“She’d say: ‘You’ve got a bunch of little alligators in there. Let’s let them go.’ She had a playful nature but she was also super-serious,” Ceraulo explained.
On the unorthodox side, Ceraulo recalled the time he took a walk with Gawboy next to the South Fork of the Eel. While Ceraulo walked alongside the waterway, Gawboy walked in the river.
“She had a dress on and went from pool to pool like a water nymph. She talked to me as she was wading,” Ceraulo related. He said the walking conversation went on in this manner for 40 minutes or so, an impressive amount of time to spend partially immersed in the Eel considering that it was spring and the water was cold.
Taun Moondy, a good friend of Gawboy’s back in the 1980s and 1990s, said Gawboy was part of “stable slopes activism,” an effort to rein in aggressive logging practices by the Pacific Lumber Company that were resulting in landslides.
Moondy pointed to the forested ridge that rises above the South Fork Eel between Garberville and Redway as a place that was saved from logging thanks in part to Gawboy’s activism, which included taking part in town hall meetings, writing letters and staging tree sits.
Ceraulo confirmed Gawboy’s role in the battle. “Her and six other activists did all they could to stop PL,” Ceraulo related, saying that the effort, which played out over some seven years, included recruiting experts, such as biologists and geologists, to strengthen the case against logging the area.
Had the battle been lost, Ceraulo said the forested ridgetop, visible from the road running between the two towns, would have been transformed into “a stark landscape with stumps.”
“She was an important part of that. She definitely left her mark,” he said.
Well-known activist Darryl Cherney said that Gawboy helped fight another battle that was ultimately successful: The protection of the Headwaters Forest southeast of Eureka.
While Cherney stopped short of calling her “a foot soldier” in that fight, he said she did do some organizing along with “some grunt work as well.”
Not all of the activist battles she fought ended up victorious. Her efforts in terms of GMOs, for example, didn’t prevent voters from rejecting a 2012 initiative that would have made California the first state in the country to require the labeling of genetically engineered food.
Nonetheless, longtime acquaintance Richard Gienger called her GMO activism “fantastic.”
“She got real articulate about it,” he remarked.
Activism aside, there was another aspect to Gawboy’s character that was striking: Her spirituality.
“She was a spiritual seeker. She always had some spiritual practice that she was looking into. That was a very important part of who she was,” Cherney remarked.
While “she didn’t join any cults,” she did “try a number of things out,” he said.
Moondy said something similar, calling her “eclectic spiritually.”
The practices she looked into ranged from Native American spiritualism to Buddhism to modern paganism. “It was a real blend of lots of spiritual practices,” Cherney summed up. “She was a person who deeply contemplated her role on the planet.”
She was also, friends said, a single mother who raised a daughter and someone who grew her own food. In addition, she gardened.
In terms of the circumstances of her killing, a press release from the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office said the cause was “a gunshot wound” and that death occurred a number of days before the body was found last Wednesday.
“The coroner determined the death was not a suicide,” the release added.
On Monday, Lt. Ernie Stewart of the Sheriff’s Office confirmed that Gawboy’s death was being investigated as a homicide. Beyond that, he declined to discuss details of the case.