Jane Gumble

Obituary of Jane Wallis Gumble

Born in 1954, Jane Wallis Gumble was the oldest of four children. Her parents were Nancy Killam Gumble, a physical therapist and community activist, and Harold Gumble, who ran a lumber and home building company. She grew up in Paupack, Pa., where her fifth-grade class in a small schoolhouse had only 10 pupils — half of whom were her cousins. Ms. Gumble graduated from Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., with a bachelor's degree in fine arts and minored in business. "I realized I'd starve to death with a fine arts degree. I had no talent," she said in 2005. Moving to Boston with a college roommate, she ended up managing a Copy Cop store before heading to the Boston University School of Law, from which she graduated in 1981. She was a partner and counsel at the Awdeh and Co. real estate development firm when she met David B. Schroeder, a builder of high-end custom homes. They were scheduled to be on the same flight out of Logan Airport. She was ahead of him in line, and the flight was canceled. They began talking while in line and he offered to drive her to her home. A month later they began dating. They married in 1984. Both were bicyclists, and they took bike-riding vacations in Europe. "She was really game for anything," he said, adding that "she really enjoyed being home and was an avid gardener." Ms. Gumble, who as director of the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development was part of the battle to ensure that affordable housing continued to be available throughout the state, died Thursday of complications from the treatment for brain cancer. Some 22 years ago, Ms. Gumble began experiencing a tingling sensation in her legs. Visits to doctors led to an MRI and an anaplastic astrocytoma diagnosis. When a doctor told her she had brain cancer and couldn't drive home, "she said, 'Well, I drove myself here and I'm driving myself home,' " her husband recalled. "And she did." She was 65, lived in Stow, and had turned her initial 18-month prognosis into 22 years. During that time, she helped raise nearly $150,000 for the National Brain Tumor Society, a Newton-based nonprofit, via a team of riders that participated in annual fund-raisers. Often Ms. Gumble left her office midday for chemotherapy at Massachusetts General Hospital, chosen in part because it was within walking distance, and returned in the afternoon. "Somehow she managed to balance work plus treatments," said her husband, David B. Schroeder. Those treatments included radiation, some 40 rounds of chemotherapy, and multiple surgeries, which inevitably took a toll. "I've suffered some memory loss, enough that it bothers me. I had a phenomenal memory," she said in the 2005 interview. Of the side effects and residual deficits that arose from treatment, "the worst is short-term memory loss," she said of one surgery she underwent in 2000. Her bosses, however, wanted her to stay with the department she ultimately led for 11 years beginning in 1996, when Governor William Weld appointed her director. She stayed through the administrations of Governor Paul Cellucci, Swift, and Mitt Romney until stepping down after Governor Deval Patrick brought in his appointees in 2007, at the outset of his administration. High on the list of challenges she faced was defending and eventually helping revise Chapter 40B, the state's so-called anti-snob zoning statute. Under that statute, residential developers can circumvent certain local zoning regulations if they designate as affordable at least a quarter of a project's housing units. Attempting to ensure there was enough affordable housing was always challenging. In 1999, when fewer than two dozen communities had achieved the state's goal of having a 10th of their housing units affordable, Ms. Gumble noted that the 10 percent benchmark was difficult to meet. Ms. Gumble joined the Weld administration in 1991 and went on to serve nine years of her Cabinet-level tenure after being diagnosed with cancer. While some that high in state government are larger-than-life figures, "she commanded respect in a very different way, just by the stillness and the thoughtfulness of her presence," Swift recalled, "and that was a very difficult thing to achieve." Through those years of balancing work and treatments, often on the same days, "she was one tough fighter," her husband said. Only rarely did Ms. Gumble take an extended leave from work, such as a two-month hiatus in 2000 during a particularly tough round of chemotherapy. "It takes a lot of energy to fight, to live," she said. A service will be announced for Ms. Gumble, who in addition to her husband leaves her three siblings, Ned of Keswick, Va., Nancy Burn Moffitt of Naples, Fla., and Steve of Telluride, Colo.; and a foster sister, Florence Peck of Honesdale, Pa. Memorial contributions may be made to National Brain Tumor Society, 55 Chapel St., Suite 200, Newton, MA 02458
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