By John Grossi
At Don Gath’s Funeral on Saturday July 27th, 2021, friends, family, and admirers gathered at St. Joseph Church in Long Beach to honor an insurance man, scout leader, baseball fanatic, and deacon to his church.
The hundreds in attendance reflected on the words they had all heard Don speak and live, speak and live - over and over for the decades that he was a part of this community.
“How Can I Help?”
That phrase ran through Don’s veins, giving him life and creating a legacy he never asked for. In fact, the humble man never asked for much, except…”How can I help?”
His son and business partner Greg Gath admittedly “admired [my] dad so much as a role model that I copied him.” Greg received a letter a few weeks after his father passed from an insurance client who said he always appreciated doing business with Don, “but mostly admired his spirituality.”
Greg, who not only followed his dad’s footsteps into the insurance business but also in teaching scouts, coaching baseball, and becoming a deacon, said that the letter writer’s sentiment speaks to the way Don carried himself and interacted with other people.
“He had a tremendous respect for individuals, would always give people time, and he’d always listen,” explained Greg. “And that came from his faith in knowing we’re all created in God’s image and likeness and we need to respect all people.”
Don would go around his business, home, church, and various organizations asking “How can I help?” Nothing was ever beneath him. When the people around him didn’t seem to need further help, he would go and find someone who did - often among the poorest and most vulnerable homeless populations in LA.
Fellow volunteer Tim Clark remembered Don’s homeless outreach as an extremely hands-on experience. Gath spearheaded a group that went out to the streets of Long Beach and LA offering basic needs kits, food, and most of all, time. Don would talk, listen, spend time with individuals, and actually visit so often he became friends with them. Clark remembers one occasion where a man didn’t even have a pair of shoes to wear. Needless to say, Don went home barefoot that night.
Don worked closely with a Long Beach priest, Father Al Scott, whose mission is to reacclimatize people on the fringe back into society. “Father Scott would be working with these individuals and it was always Don who was first to welcome them over for a dinner, or drive them to a play. He would always miraculously find some sort of job that needed to be done around his office or home, and then pay that individual for the work,” says Clark. Clark refers to Don and his wife Tina as “the compassionate heart of St. Joseph.”
Deacon Tom Halliwell agrees with that sentiment.
“He was a smiling face and he was a servant. Anytime anyone needed something to get done, Don was there doing it. A kind, gentle, devout, quiet man, he wasn’t one to beat you over the head with church dogma or teaching, he just lived out his faith. He really lived the quintessential call of a deacon, which is to serve. And especially to serve the poorest and most vulnerable around us.”
Don was a great example of how communities of faith and the people dedicated to them have the ability to impact our region is great and positive ways. The number of charitable organizations he involved himself with are countless, and even at his small insurance business, which family members continue to operate, his faith and dedication to kindness was palpable.
It was a true pleasure knowing and working with Don Gath, drawing inspiration from his approach to bettering our community. Just by looking someone in the eye and simply asking, “How can I help?”