On the morning of April 15, Gay Austin passed away one month short of her 94th year. Born in Munich, Gay fled Nazi Germany at the age of seventeen for England where she entered a London training program in early childhood education at the North Hampstead Day Nursery.
In 1937 she arrived in America to join family members in Des Moines, Iowa and then moved to St. Louis, Missouri where she taught at Washington University’s Lab Preschool. Two years later she returned to Des Moines to marry Kurt M. Austin, the young man she had known and loved as a young woman in Munich who had also made his way to America. In 1945 Gay, Kurt and their two children Michael and Ruth moved to northern California.
A year later she started the Gay Austin Nursery School in her home with Michael in her first group of children. In 1957 she and Kurt were able to purchase and renovate a dentist’s office on Hopkins Street in Berkeley as the school’s new home where it remains to this day.
The Gay Austin Nursery School became one of the first preschools in Berkeley to admit a visually-impaired child. More followed. At one time the nursery school had student teachers from San Francisco State’s Department of Education because of the nine special needs children enrolled. The Gay Austin Nursery School also provided a setting for undergraduate field placements for UC’s School of Social Welfare and the UC Lab School. In her 36 years as Director, over 1,000 families counted themselves fortunate to have been a part of an amazing school that continues today with the same educational approach. Gay’s educational philosophy for young children was simple but profound: follow the child.
Following her retirement Gay and husband Kurt enjoyed European travels that included frequent trips to Switzerland and Germany, For the last ten years of Kurt’s life they lived in Walnut Creek’s Rossmoor Retirement Community. They had been married for 59 years when he died. Gay enjoyed a rich life at Oakland’s Piedmont Gardens for nearly thirteen years where she was known as “the flower lady,” making sure that dining room tables were always adorned with fresh, colorful flowers. Her close relationship with her grandchildren and the deep respect and admiration they felt for her illustrates how she managed to provide wise and loving counsel to a younger generation.
Gay leaves behind a large and loving family that includes her son Michael Austin and wife Susan, daughter Ruth and husband Michael Peritz, sister Beth Snortum, grandchildren Marc Austin, Kim Austin, Rachel McLachlan, Jennifer Zoffel, and great-grandchildren Emily, Alex, Mia, Molly, Abby, Becca and Eliana, nephews and nieces.
A practical and deliberate woman, Gay once summed up her life in the following way: “Living my life meant that I lived every day, good or bad.”
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