Gail Tanaka

Feb. 7, 1952 - June 7, 2022

Leaf - Earth Leaf - Earth Leaf - Earth Leaf - Earth

Gail Tanaka passed away peacefully at home in West Seattle, due to cancer that could not be cured. Illness never touched her spirit. Wonderful hospice care was provided by Providence Mount St. Vincent. With a smile, her last words were "I'm ready," with her husband David and daughter Lia at her side. Gail was born to Martha Matsumoto and James Tanaka, Nisei immigrants to Vashon Island. Her parents passed when she was young, so her aunts and many cousins became her very close family. They continued to be an important part of Gail's life, a strong family network, as children were born and grew up and had children of their own. Gail earned a Bachelor of Arts at the Evergreen State College and a Master of Social Work from the University of Washington. Her life's passion was to contribute her talents in places with a community service mission. She was the Executive Director of the International District Community Health Clinic in 1981, where she met her husband David McLanahan, a surgeon at Pacific Medical Center who, as a volunteer, set up a half-day per week surgical clinic. She was active in the Seattle Chapter of the Japanese American Citizen League, the oldest Asian American civil and human rights organization in the US., serving as President 1991. After IDCHC, Gail led various health initiatives working at Comprehensive Health Education Foundation as Data Analyst & Policy Advisor, then worked at Seattle and King County Public Health as Health Policy Development /Coalition Coordinator, before retiring from King County Metro. Gail made and kept close friends everywhere she worked, and she touched the lives of many, including the PAC-Asian softball team of the early 1980's, coached by the legendary Eddie O'Brien. By report, she was fast and swung a mean bat. She was amazingly creative, a beautiful weaver, foraging for plant dying material, and spinning her own wool, and was honored to be part of the Seattle Weaver's Guild. She was a mushroom hunter, salmon fisher, vegetable harvester, jam maker, flower grower, and knitter. Gail was an adventurer, too, and she and David had the opportunity almost every year for three weeks of adventure travel widely across Asia and other exotic places. Gail and David's first trip together, in 1984, was by folding Kayak down the Sepik River in Papua New Guinea, staying in their tent in welcoming villages. They trekked across northern Borneo, Sulawesi, Thailand, Irian Jaya, mountain biked in Nepal, and rafted in Slovenia. Gail picked coffee with the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, visited Italy and made two trips to Japan to meet her distant relatives. Gail and David brought daughter Lia Tanaka McLanahan into the family in 1998. Gail relished motherhood. Lia was a source of joy and pride to them. She was able to join in the on the excitement during treks in Peru to Machu Picchu, in Alaska, and visits to Bali, Borneo, China, Spain, Costa Rica, and Belize. Lia now is working on her Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D) at George Fox University in Oregon. Holidays and birthdays were a time when family and friends looked forward to being together. Those celebrations will continue with a special place set for Gail. She leaves a legacy as a model for community engagement, touching countless lives. To former colleagues, friends and extended family, who were fortunate to know her personally, she will be warmly remembered for her keen intellect, understated sense of humor, and empathetic and gracious manner. Gail will live on in their hearts and memories. A Memorial Event will be held on Sunday, August 14th, 6-9pm at the Mount Baker Community Club, 2811 Mount Baker Drive S. In lieu of flowers, please consider a contribution in Gail's honor to International Community Health Services. Please sign Gail's Guest Book at


Leave the earth with beauty

Earth specializes in soil transformation, an environmentally-friendly alternative to burial and cremation. Over a 45-day process, we gently transform a body into nutrient-rich soil. We then send this soil to our local conservation land where it’s used for restoration projects such as reforestation and nourishing challenged ecosystems.

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