A Falmouth couple who died this week in a traffic accident on the Maine Turnpike were remembered Wednesday for their kindness, optimism and good work.

Press Herald copy editor Betsy Gattis was employed at the paper for 30 years. She retired in 2018. Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer:

Geoffrey Gattis and his wife, Elizabeth “Betsy” Gattis, both 68, died Tuesday afternoon as they drove home from a visit with their grandson in Massachusetts. Their car was stopped in traffic and rear-ended by a tractor-trailer near the Kittery-York line.

Geoff Gattis retired in 2018 as executive vice president of Bath Savings Institution, where he had worked since 1992.

Betsy Gattis was a longtime copy editor and page designer at the Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram. She also retired in 2018, after 37 years with the newspaper.

The couple are survived by two sons, Will Barton Gattis of Oregon, and Bryan Gattis Wulff, his wife, Elise, and their son, Orlie, of Massachusetts.

Will Gattis broke down in tears Wednesday during an interview about his parents.

“It feels like my soul went through a shredder,” he said. “There are certain kinds of pain that cannot be understood without experiencing it. There’s no way of adequately representing this loss. It’s like the universe lost light.”

Geoff Gattis was remembered by family and friends Wednesday as a kind, positive and adventurous man.

He worked at Bath Savings for more than 25 years, ending his career as executive vice president of commercial lending. He counseled business owners throughout the state and took a personal interest in their success.

Geoff Gattis stands by an array of feeders in his yard in Falmouth Foreside. He retired in 2018 as executive vice president of Bath Savings Institution. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

“He was a great banker, but a better person,” said Glenn Hutchinson, president of Bath Savings. “He took a real interest in his customers and his co-workers. He was really a positive influence for everyone he met. We’re all devastated. It has been a very difficult time for many at the bank. We’re shocked.”

One of the proudest moments of his banking career was securing a loan for Becky Rand, owner of the well-known Becky’s Diner in Portland, which marks its 30-year anniversary this year. Rand said she owes that to Geoff Gattis.

In the early 1990s, Rand was a single mother of six, working three waitressing jobs just to make ends meet. Rand said she went to eight banks in search of a loan to open her own restaurant, and they all turned her down.

Then Gattis called. At the time, Rand wrote a regular column for the Forecaster newspaper, and Gattis told her he was a big fan, she said.

“He had been reading it. He never met me but he felt like he knew me, and did I want to come in and meet with him?” Rand recalled.

When the bank changed hands and her loan was at risk of being turned down, Gattis fought for her, she said.

“He knew what it meant to me. And it changed my life, and my kids’ lives. I was able to send my kids to college,” she said.

Betsy Gattis was remembered Wednesday as a talented copy editor and designer at the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram. She joined the newspaper in 1981.

Steve Ericson, copy desk chief, said Wednesday in an email that “Betsy was the kindest person and loved by everyone on the copy desk.”

“I was so sad to hear about Betsy and Geoff,” Ericson said. “She was a meticulous copy editor and designer who at one time or another has done almost every job on the news and features desks. We will miss her so much.”

A company-wide email about Gattis’ passing was sent to employees Wednesday morning. Dozens of colleagues expressed shock and broke down in tears over the news.

“When Betsy retired from the Press Herald a few years ago, she left a hole in our newsroom that’s never been filled – not simply because her work was outstanding, but because she was just the nicest person to be around,” said Executive Editor Cliff Schechtman in an email.

John Willhoite, a retired features copy editor, said Gattis was beloved by every person she worked with because of her beautiful personality, intellect and sense of humor. He said they both started working part-time as copy editors at the paper.

“Early on it was clear she was a really talented editor,” Willhoite said. “Back in the ’80s, we were putting out six editions a night. It was chaos every night with six deadlines in the newsroom. Betsy was always this island of calm in the sea of chaos. She could be counted on. You could throw a story at her that was raw and she could turn it into something that was fit for publication. She took great pride in her craft. She was proud to be part of the Press Herald. She was a firm believer in the value of community journalism and was extremely proud to be part of that.”

Several colleagues remembered the holiday rum balls she made for the newsroom every year.

“She was a kind, creative and beautiful woman. And she was always happy to share her holiday rum ball recipe, no matter how many times I asked for it,” said Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard.

Betty and Geoff Gattis both retired in 2018 to pursue their passions, travel and spend time with their sons and grandson.

He was an avid hiker and interested in birdwatching and botany. He collected various types of orchids.

He was also a talented musician, singer and songwriter who in his early years moved to Los Angeles with a dream of selling his songs and performing. He eventually did an about-face and got into business.

“Geoff was one of the most positive, life-affirming guys you could ever meet,” said Tux Turkel, a business reporter at the Press Herald and close friend of the couple. “He was always happy with life. He was so positive. He was a guy who counted the days till his retirement. He was looking forward to many years of traveling, playing music, and being with his family. And just like that … ”

Chuck Radis, a longtime friend from Peaks Island, broke down in tears Wednesday recalling his time with Geoff Gattis. He laughed about the time he and Turkel took Gattis camping during the winter. Gattis, who grew up in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, didn’t appreciate the cold.

“That about destroyed our friendship because Geoff was so cold. Poor guy. It was cold a couple of nights,” Radis said. “Geoff said, ‘You know what, I really like you guys but if you ever bring me winter camping again, you’re going to be killed in your sleep.’ ” Radis said laughing.

Radis said he admired Geoff Gattis’ positive outlook.

“He was able to really put things into perspective,” said Radis. “We all have difficult times, and he was a good one for being able to really look at the positive side. Just being around him, you would share that.”

Betsy and Geoff Gattis were college sweethearts. They were married for 42 years and lived in Falmouth. They were active members of Foreside Community Church, UCC in Falmouth.

The couple traveled all over the world. They enjoyed spending time with friends, their children and grandson.

“Man did they love being grandparents,” son Will Gattis said. ‘They were so enthusiastic.”

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