SKIL’s Gail Spillman dies at 65

PARSONS - People who meet in SKIL Resource Center's John and Gail Spillman Boardroom will have lasting inspiration of two of its most influential leaders who fought for better treatment of the disabled.

On Nov. 15, SKIL's board of directors voted to add Gail Spillman's name to the John Spillman Boardroom to honor the employee's 21-year long career at the downtown Parsons independent living center. Gail Spillman was the chief executive officer assistant to SKIL's President/CEO Shari Coatney and the widow of now-deceased SKIL board member John Spillman. She passed away on Oct. 29, 2017, after serious health problems recently ended her work there.

Spillman was a gentle but deeply effective advocate for the disabled, assisting Coatney in running the independent living center which provides a wide array of services to people with disabilities.

"Gail was a strong, tireless force for the disabled on a daily basis," said Coatney. "She was a quiet person, but she was literally the wind beneath my wings. Many times people don't realize how the people in the background play such an important role in advocacy efforts. Gail was instrumental in helping to improve the lives of many with disabilities during her career."

Spillman's dedicated career as Coatney's assistant began after her volunteer efforts at SKIL led Coatney to offer her a paid position as the executive assistant.

"She said, 'I can't do this job; I don't know anything about what you do,'" Coatney recalled. "I said, if you sit in my office with me every day, you'll figure it out. And she did--we shared an office for 21 years."

Spillman, who herself later became disabled, quickly won respect for her gentle Christian ways, her deep faith and life wisdom, her remarkable patience in dealing with people and problem situations, and her strong advocacy efforts, said Coatney.

"Gail became a friend to those who entered our office and sought help," she said, "And was also a mother figure to many. She was there for people in full measure."

In her personal life as well as her professional life she lived what she preached, Coatney noted. When her husband John became disabled, Spillman, her family and SKIL personal care attendants cared for him at home, successfully keeping him out of a nursing facility until his death. When Spillman herself became seriously disabled, she resolutely continued her work as Coatney's assistant, doing so when many in her life situation would've simply quit, said Coatney.

Spillman leaves behind an inspirational example and lasting legacy to all who knew her, and to those who believe people with disabilities should be treated with equality and respect, Coatney said, noting that her assistant did not quit working for her until recently, when she literally became physically unable to return to work.

"She officially retired in 2016, wasn't off very long, then returned and kept working for me until her doctor said she couldn't work anymore," said Coatney. "Gail exemplified the essence of SKIL. She was more than an assistant, more than just an advocate. She was family that can never be replaced."

SKIL is a multi-faceted independent living resource center that helps people with disabilities or those whose environment is disabling. Headquartered in Parsons, it has branch offices in Chanute, Columbus, Fredonia, Independence, Pittsburg and Sedan. For more information, call 1-800-688-5616 or stop by any SKIL office. On the web at: www.skilonline.com.