One week ago today my world was rocked when my sister, Donna Garrison, passed away due to complications from a long time cancer battle.
This is the last picture we took together – that she forced us to take, just the weekend before at our lake house. We had the best time and she was happy. I knew we didn’t have forever, but I prayed we had another 6 months or another year or hopefully more. I never expected that last week would be my last with her.
Donna was the ultimate big sister to me and my two brothers. She and I shared a room, where we built elaborate Barbie condos, where she played air guitar along to the rock albums she loved and played on her portable turntable as loud as she liked, where she wrote bad words on the mirror with my brand-new lipstick. She wore big bells and sported Farrah Fawcett hair. She was fun, quick, smart. I was blessed.
After college she joined Lotus, then Microsoft, during the very exciting early tech years. She was in Seattle, I was in California, when she connected me to her boss and I ultimately also joined. Donna’s best skill was that of connecting people. Once you met her the goal was to figure out who you both knew and who she could connect you with. Her openness to share her successes led to my getting my dream job.
She and David and the kids lived the good life in Washington State – Boating the San Juan Islands in 50-foot boats alongside friends in their boats was her idea of camping. Life was good.
Once the babies started coming my husband and I purchased a home in Pleasanton, and I left Microsoft. Donna would visit from Seattle– my three kids tan, her three translucent, and she started to get the itch to return to sunny California. She and David, on a whim, bought one of the original spec homes in Ruby Hill, a new gated community in Pleasanton, and she quit her amazing career to stay home and have more time to enjoy her biggest blessings, Shelby, Scott and Zach.
Staying home didn’t mean just laying by the Ruby Hill pool, although there was lots of time for fun in the sun with Donna. She and some neighbors founded the Ruby Hill Giving Thanks Charity Ball which raised hundreds of thousands for great causes. She was a long serving board member of Sandra J. Wing Healing Therapies Foundation. She produced two feature films. She worked on documentaries. She was on boards and involved in lives. She traveled to film festivals and traveled with family on Sunriver vacations and with David to Europe. She hiked, hung out with friends that like wine, volunteered. There’s more, so much more that she did. She didn’t let anyone box her in. She was Donna.
Whereas I’m a lake lover, she loved the beach and shared her little paradise with all of us. She had this happy place, a great house right on the water that she had access to. She’d often sneak away and invite a zillion of her besties as well as new friends to join her. We’d sit and watch the water, share a bottle of Chardonnay, and share stories and ideas. We have so many amazing memories and great times at the ocean with her.
Just recently she and her family, including her granddaughter, Olivia, shared an amazing house on the water in Cabo. Nothing made her happier than her family and the ocean. I am so happy they had that time together. Spending time with Olivia was her favorite thing – she adored that girl.
Donna liked the good life and there are a thousand stories, including the time when we were in NYC and she didn’t let the front desk guy off the hook for not having a suite for us. Ultimately, she got us Paris Hilton’s former apartment on the 35th floor of that hotel. Another victory for Donna and as always great fun for us.
About 14 years ago I decided to go into real estate, thought I’d make a bit of money to buy a sofa when I wanted. Donna decided to join me. Said we’d be a team, I said no. Said we’d take it big. I said no. We did what Donna wanted, of course, and went on to have much success in Real Estate being Rookies of the Year, going onto being named the #4 team in the World for Keller Williams, and ultimately settling at Sotheby’s where we were recently awarded our office’s highest honor, Chairman’s Circle, along with 2 other great agents. Donna and I worked side by side and sometimes led, sometimes followed. We laughed, we fought, we lost and we won, all together.
Donna took a listing the day before she passed. She was writing an offer on another home (and Donna that offer got accepted today!). She had a bunch of listings to launch. She did not stop. She was an amazing real estate agent. She had energy, integrity, really watched out for and loved her clients. She was a Rock Star in the Real Estate world and in my world.
So now life goes on. We move forward and honor the way she lived by doing good for others, by being inclusive, being curious, by connecting people, by being optimistic. Our business continues. We sell fabulous properties for fabulous people. I welcome your stories; I want to hear her name. I hope you’ll continue to consider working with me/us when it’s time to buy or sell.
Our mom, Jeri Stark, has worked with us for years and continues on getting our ads placed and her famous pineapple upside down cake made for broker tours. Donna’s husband, David Garrison, continues to support our team, and will continue to assist with inspections and open houses and such. Our transaction coordinator, Nancy Sutter, stands by ready to help with contracts and signatures. We have the full support of our office and for that matter a large family of agents in the real estate community. Donna would want this momentum to continue and so it will.
She will be forever missed. I thought it was time to share this news, for those who had not already heard. I could have written one million more things about her and will forever cherish my memories of her. I look forward to memories being sparked as people share their stories of her with me and with her family.
Thank you for caring. I know cancer affects too many families and many of you personally, so please know that we also care and hope you and your loved ones are well.