Journal of the San Juan Islands


Genavie ‘Geb’ Nichols: 1929—2013 | Passages

May 13, 2013 · Updated 9:04 AM

Genavie Nichols: 1929-2013 / Contributed photo

Nichols will be celebrated at the Shaw Community Center beginning at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, May 16, just the way she wanted: with a good party.

Geb died on her terms, in her home at Bay Head Farm, with family at her side and birds outside her window, on April 8. She was 84.

Geb had a hand in almost all aspects of Shaw life over the past 42 years. It began in 1971 when she and her second husband, John Nichols (Woodland Park Zoo superintendent,) bought the Shaw General Store along with the post office, marina, gas station and ferry dock contract.

Geb later laughed that all she brought to the job was the experience of having bought groceries for her large family for more than 20 years. Yet, she handled her new round-the-clock job with great competency, enthusiasm, and style – qualities her island friends and neighbors would grow to expect from her contributions to the community.

After five years, Geb and John happily sold the store to an order of Franciscan nuns, and moved to Bay Head Farm, where Geb added to her list of newly acquired life skills: animal husbandry, gardening, canning and weaving (she had many blue ribbons for her canned vegetables and “sheep to shawl” competition at the San Juan County Fair).

Geb and John were a part of the original sustainable, organic, and slow food movements. It was not uncommon to find them sharing their former milking-shed cabin with lambs, incubated turkeys, and the legendary Capistrano swallows who nested in their living room. Along the way, she developed two businesses: mail order Christmas greens and Bicycle Bob’s Salsa. Always hands-on, she functioned as CEO and “delivery man”. In later years, her faithful Border Collie, Tula, was never far from her side as she went about her day.

Geb was the volunteer librarian for the community funded Shaw Island Library & Historical Society for the past 16 years. Though her formal education after high school was in the arts, she was a voracious and sophisticated reader, and a movie maven who built a remarkable collection of books and videos that residents greatly appreciate and at which visitors marvel. She also served as a commissioner of the island’s fire district and as a director of its cemetery and school boards.

The youngest of four children, Geb was born to Gladys Theresa Difford and Wallace Ellsworth Difford on Jan. 6, 1929, in Louisville, Ky. The family moved to Tacoma in 1938, where she attended Annie Wright Seminary, graduating high school in 1947. She had dreams of becoming the next Amelia Earhart, and had secretly taken flying lessons by the age of 17. Her first solo flight was one of her fondest memories.

She married George Irving Thomas in 1948 and moved with him to Baltimore, where she attended the Maryland Art Institute to study drawing. The couple moved to Boston with their first child, George Jr., in 1950; and then to Japan in 1952 with newly born Andrew. Overseas, she developed an appreciation for travel and Asian arts and culture (her children recall that theirs was the only family served dinners of sushi and octopus during the 60s). The family returned to Seattle in 1953, where George began his career as a cardiovascular-thoracic surgeon.

Following the additions of three more children — Chandler, Genavie and Sarah — the family settled in Laurelhurst in 1960. While raising her family of five, Geb studied classical piano at Seattle Cornish College of the Arts with renowned pianist John Rowland Cowell, who personally selected a grand piano to match her style.

She attended the symphony, ballet, opera and theater whenever possible, even while living on Shaw, and was a committed volunteer, serving as a director of Neighborhood House; on the original PONCHO auction committee; and as a member of the Ryther Child Center Guild.

Geb was passionately active in the anti-war, feminist, environmental and civil-rights movements, and raised her children to be independent thinkers.  She will be remembered for her sense of humor, intellectual curiosity, engaging conversation, love of nature and the arts, commitment to human rights, and unique life path.

She is survived by her five children and their spouses; her brother, David Difford; and her grandchildren: Tyler and Colter Thomas, Hannah Halladay, Nigel and Robin Thomas, and Sam Johnson.

Donations in her memory can be made to the Shaw Island Library & Historical Society, P.O. Box 844, Shaw Island, 98286. The money will be used to continue to build the library’s book and video collection.

— Family of Genavie Nichols


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