STOCKBRIDGE >> Michelle Gillett — writer, feminist, journalist, poet, mentor, wife, mother and columnist — died on Thursday of lung cancer. She was 68.
Gillett was greatly loved and admired as evidenced by multiple Facebook posts about her on Thursday and Friday.
"A bright light has gone out in the Berkshires," lamented Jennifer Browdy, founder of the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers, an organization Gillett supported.
Ellen Spear, former executive director of the Hancock Shaker Village, mourned the loss of "a graceful, gentile soul."
"Teacher, friend," wrote Barbara Newman, a local producer and director. "A beautiful shining light in the world."
"I am so shaken and sad," wrote Lisa Avery, of Adams.
Gillett, who made her home in Stockbridge, was a columnist for The Eagle for more than 30 years. Like many Eagle columnists, she was encouraged to write about a wide variety of subjects.
Gillett readily obliged: She wrote about everything from fly fishing to music to abortion to relationships. Her first column was a story about her youngest daughter. She freely acknowledged that her children and family were her biggest priority. She wrote about her daughters fairly often.
She once imparted to an Eagle writer that she believed it was better to write about things one knew about than to sound off about subjects little understood.
Gillett was well-read and her columns were well-written. Her conversational style of writing enabled the reader to navigate the piece easily and understand her point.
"Michelle's column ran on the OpEd page every other Tuesday like clockwork for roughly 30 years," said Eagle Editorial Page Editor Bill Everhart. "Even after becoming ill in December, she kept filing her column.
"She was a gifted writer of both prose and poetry, and the value of poetry was among her many causes," Everhart said. "As an opinion writer, she was an articulate advocate of progressive causes, and took brave stands on issues, many of them involving women's rights, that weren't always popular with the mainstream.
"She advocated the right to abortion, and the need for access to contraception. She was a supporter of gay rights long before that cause began to take hold in the state and nation. She supported equal pay for women and equal access to education for women everywhere."
Everhart said Gillett wrote often about life in the Berkshires, "its physical beauty and its vibrant culture — art, music and literary. She also wrote eloquently about loss, particularly of her parents and friends."
"Michelle wrote often about women's health issues, and on Dec. 21 she wrote about her own bout with cancer in the context of what she had learned about the illness in writing about others fighting the same battle," Everhart said.
"I wasn't going to write about cancer in this column," Gillett wrote. "Who wants to read about cancer? It's depressing, it's morbid; it takes over lives, it ends lives. But a couple of weeks ago I found out I have cancer. One day I was fine; I was me. The next day I was horribly sick, and that me was not the same me anymore."
She spoke of how, in the days following her diagnosis, people often asked her how she felt.
"I find myself reaching for ... the old me," she wrote.
In that column, she reflected on her writings: "I have written about lots of things: families, my own and others. I have written about women's issues — abortion, birth control, and equal pay. I have written about life in the Berkshires: the creative economy, poetry, art and music, and about the natural world that surrounds us. I have written about dogs, fly fishing, and trees; I have written about neighbors and gardens; I have written about the inconveniences of contemporary life. I have written about people who are gone: my parents and their friends. I have written about the life of the body and the life of the spirit. I have been happy to tell all these stories, and grateful to my readers for reading and responding and sharing their stories with me."
She is survived by her husband of 46 years, Chuck Gillett, and their daughters, Erin Gillett of El Cerrito, Calif., and Lisa Gillett of Albuquerque, N.M., and sons-in-law, as well as three grandchildren, three sisters, brothers and sisters in-law, and nieces and nephews.
A memorial for will be at 2 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 20, at the First Congregational Church, 4 Main St., Stockbridge.