A Life Well Lived
Gary Lynn Sandstrom died on Monday, April 13, 2020 at his home at age 76 of cardiac arrest. He was born on April 29, 1943 to Louis and Marion Sandstrom in the suburban town of Fairport, New York. He attended Fairport public schools where he graduated from Minerva Deland High School in 1961. He graduated from Hobart College in 1965 with a degree in journalism and was a member of Phi Kappa Tau Fraternity. Although he could easily have focused on his own career right after Hobart, he instead volunteered with the Peace Corps and was assigned to Ecuador.
After the Peace Corps, he went into the hospitality field. He started out in Mexico where he opened and managed restaurants. He then expandedhisworkandlivedinSouthAmericawhere he managed restaurants in hotels.AfterreturningtotheUnitedStates,hebecamethedirectorof food and beverages for Sheraton and Marriott Hotels.
Continuing his career in the hospitality industry, took a position with B&B Washingtons Caterers, one of Washington’s premier catering companies, as their Vice President of Operations. He was featured in several magazines for his outstanding work with B&B.
After retiring from the hospitality industry, he spent over 20 years in real estate with Long & Foster Reality. He worked out of their Silver Spring office. As with everything Gary put his mind to, he was a success. During his time at Long & Foster, he achieved top agent of the month honors in 2004, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012, and 2013. He mentored many agents along the way. At the time of his death, he was still working for Long and Foster.
In his early years, he traveled across the country and around the world. He spoke Spanish fluently and could speak easily in several other languages. Hewasanaccomplishedpianistand photographer. He also loved flowers, gardening, walking, the opera, and classical music. He took special pleasure in his monthly or twice monthlycallswithhissisterBodenandheenjoyed her visits. She would visit often and Gary would look forward to dinners and spending quality time with her.
When he returned from his overseas work, Gary lived in Logan Circle in WDC for many years and then he owned a home in Takoma Park with his sister Boden. And it was while living there that he met the love of his life, Shabazz. They met in 1990 at the Circle Bar in Dupont Circle. Theirs was a love at first sight. It was a whirlwind romance. The following weekend they spent together and never separated again, for the next 30 years. Although together for several decades, they formalized their relationship in a private wedding ceremony on December 8, 2010 in Washington, DC.
Gary had the means and love to help Shabazz realize hisdreams.ShowinghisloveforShabazz, he helped fund Shabazz’s activism and involvement in politics. Manytimes,Garycautionedhim about people he was supporting, and Gary’s insights into people were always on target. Yet, even when problems arose or people turned out to be false,GarywasalwaysthereforShabazz. His love and loyalty were unwavering.
Shabazz hopes to do two other things in Gary’s memory.First,hewilldosomethingthatheand Gary dreamed of for years. Gary always wanted to have a home overlooking a body of water. Second, because he and Gary loved their many pets, Shabazz will support several animal shelters to care for unwanted animals and help find them homes. He will also set up a fund to help people who cannot afford veterinary care. Shabazz will make thesethingshappentohonor the man he loved.
Gary introduced Shabazz to another world – Washington’s cultural community. They went to the Kennedy Center, the National Ballet, and the Warner Theater, enjoying music, dance, and plays. They listened to opera and classical music together. In addition to the music of others, Gary loved to listen to Shabazz sing whether around the houseorinthecar.Hisbeautifulvoice would stop Gary whatever he was doing; he would sit back and listen and then clap attheend. But most especially, Gary would gift Shabazz with one of his brightest, loving smiles, more meaningful than any applause. Shabazz also could make Gary laugh like no one else. They enjoyed the best of Washington’s restaurants and shopped together at some of the finest stores.
Gary loved his many, many dogs and cats, but he especially held in his heart, Princess, a German Shepherd who was part of the Wallace Avenue family for 18 years.
Gary was always smiling. He always had something positive to say. He was a laid-back guy, but in his quietness there lay a deep strength.
He is survived by his lifelong companion and spouse of 30 years, Mahdi Shabazz, and his only and beloved sister Boden Sandstrom of Delaware. He is also survived by two very special friends Leila D. Speed of Maryland (a sister to us) and John Salatti of Germany; his devoted godchildren Larry Green, Briana Green, DeAndre Green, and Markita Green; and a host of other family and friends.
A Tribute to Gary Lynn Sandstrom: The Love of My Life
My Dearest Gary, It seems like just yesterday that in 1990 I saw a tall, well-dressed gentleman talking with friends at the Circle Bar in Dupont Circle. You were dressed to the nines; every hair was in place; shoes were so shined, I could see my image in them; hands were well-manicured; and your smile, which caught my attention, was the envy of any dentist. Our eyes metandIsmiledeversoshyly. Littledidwebothknowthatthatchancemeetingwould turn into 30 years of devotion and happiness for each of us, only to be separated byyourdeath on Monday, April 13, 2020. Having you in my life made each day worth living. You were the source of my love, joy, comfort, and companionship. From that magical day in 1990, our relationship grew and culminated in a private ceremony that formalized our love on December 8, 2010. Your love kept me grounded, allowing me to be me. You brought out the best in me. You supported my dreams and aspirations while cautioning me about bumps in the road, but you werealwaystherewhenIneededhelp.Thehomewebuilttogetherwasnotwithoutdifferencesof opinions, disappointments, and disagreements, but our love helped us weather the storms that would cause many people to call it quits. We were not only lovers, but you were my best friend. We shared many happy moments. I enjoyed the little things we shared: your laughter, our conversations at breakfast and dinner, discussing timely news topics, and watching television programs together. Just as you built the home in Silver Spring for me in 1997, where I continuously see precious memories of our love, I will keep my promise to you, and build a home overlooking a beautiful body of water. You found me as a diamond in the rough, and you polished me up and made me the person I am today: very strong, confident, and formidable. I was blessed to have known you and I will always love and cherish you until the day I leave this world. I miss you my good friend and confidant more than words could ever say. You will always continue to be “The Wind Beneath My Wings.” In closing, I am reminded of the Amanda Bradley poem titled “Each Life Affects Another”:
Each Life Affects Another
We may not always realize that everything we do Affects not only our lives but touches others, too. A single happy smile can always brighten up the day For anyone who happens to be passing by your way, And a little bit of thoughtfulness that shows someone you care Creates a ray of sunshine for both of us to share. Yes, every time you offer someone a helping hand, Every time you show a friend you care and understand, Every time you have a kind and gentle word to give, You help someone to find beauty in this precious life we live, For happiness brings happiness, and loving ways bring love, And giving is the treasure that contentment is made of.
Gary, I look to you so many times to see your happy smile I come to you for company to talk a little while I laugh with you and share with you a world of special things I learned from you the precious joy that only caring could bring, goodbye my friend.
With all my love, Shabazz
Gary Sandstrom: a beautiful man, a loyal friend, who set up his lover to shine
“A powerful quiet giant.” “He was so happy.” “Light of my life.” “Sweet personality.”
Gary Sandstrom … he was all these things. He was so much more. How does one say good-bye to such a man? For me the answer is easy: I have no need to say good-bye to Gary, for he lives on. In each day, in the persons he touched, through Shabazz.
Through Shabazz, that’s how I met Gary. I’ve known Shabazz for about a dozen years, collaborating with him on any number of projects: some to help the community, others to fight the injustices heaped on Shabazz himself. So we’ve been tight. But even though the focus of our time together was one of activism, Shabazz would talk about Gary often and most of it was quite beautiful (most of it… ;-) ). But several years passed before I met Gary. And when I did meet him, I understood what Shabazz had been saying. Here was this reserved, sensitive, almost elegant man. I could easily see the impact he must have had in the 1970s and ‘80s. He didn’t say much; he just let his smile communicate his warmth and welcome. And Gary always made me feel totally welcome, totally at ease, totally at home.
During those times with Gary, I saw the love he had for Malachi—the child he and Shabazz had adopted, for the home that they had built together and decorated with so much art from Gary’s travels, for the pets that adored Gary (that are still listless in his absence). His love shone on all these.
But the brightest ray of Gary’s love light was always reserved for Shabazz. For Shabazz was the light of his life. And vice versa. As Shabazz said to me, “I couldn’t have made it without him. He took me off the streets and gave me a wonderful life. He opened the house to all the people I’ve known and helped so many of them. He took care of me for over 30 years. Gary was the energy in this house. ”
And when Shabazz says “the energy of this house,” he is also quietly saying that Gary was the energy that helped power him. Shabazz is the diva; Gary loved the diva in him. And the diva was fueled by that love. The love in the depths of Gary’s silence was more powerful than Shabazz’s flamboyance. But, of course, most of us usually just saw Shabazz’s performance (“Dah-ling!”) and often missed Gary’s substance.
But that doesn’t mean being with Shabazz was easy for Gary. For as much as the former thrives on confrontation, the latter was equally as averse to conflict. And for Shabazz, there was no confrontation too small, no fight too big for him to avoid. The more in-yourface, the more intense, the more aggressive, the more extreme … the better. That’s Shabazz. (And wait, now the gloves are coming off. Don’t believe me? Watch.)
Gary was just the opposite. He was a quiet, gentle man. Just look at his career paths. Gary started in the hospitality business for goodness’ sakes! He was all about making people happy, giving them a good time, and smoothing out any conflict that his customers or guests were experiencing. He went from hospitality to real estate; he went from helping people have a good time to making their dreams come true. Inflaming conflict was not how Gary succeeded. Although conflict occurs in every business and walk of life, for Gary, the goal was to anticipate it, get ahead of it, and defuse it before it really became a problem. The great restauranteurs, the great real estate agents have that gift in their DNA.
So regarding conflict, these two men are as far apart as two people could be. Much of me sensed that Gary abhorred the constant barrage of conflict that surged around Shabazz. And yet. And yet. Where a lesser love might have abandoned one so immersed in conflict, Gary never shied away from what Shabazz felt compelled to do, never wavered in his support, never conditioned his love. Such was, such is their bond.
Indeed, without Gary, Shabazz could never have fought and fought and fought and fight still his fights. Yes, Gary provided the money to sustain the fights, but he provided something more. He provided the emotional support, the unshakeable rock that Shabazz can still stand on and that no money can buy.
Gary is, as Shabazz wrote in his tribute, the wind beneath his wings. That song truly describes the dance of their relationship. Shabazz just noted the title of the song, but I went back over the words and saw the two of them so beautifully reflected. And if Shabazz would sing this song with his stunning voice, the depth of its message would be so clear and Gary would surely smile.
Wind Beneath My Wings
Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh It must have been cold there in my shadow To never have sunlight on your face You were content to let me shine, that's your way You always walked a step behind So I was the one with all the glory While you were the one with all the strength A beautiful face without a name for so long A beautiful smile to hide the pain Did you ever know that you're my hero And everything I would like to be?
I can fly higher than an eagle For you are the wind beneath my wings It might have appeared to go unnoticed But I've got it all here in my heart I want you to know I know the truth, of course I know it I would be nothing without you Did you ever know that you're my hero? You're everything I wish I could be I could fly higher than an eagle For you are the wind beneath my wings
Shabazz is a big presence; he can dominate a room like few can; he is a force. How can one not end up in his shadow? But he will admit that he could not do all he’s done, be all he is without Gary. And Gary was happy to take that supporting, often anonymous, role. Indeed, he made his life’s work creating a stage upon which his lover could shine. Together, Gary and Shabazz are like the most stunning of diamond engagement rings. Shabazz—the many faceted, multi-carated, brilliantly shining diamond—which all most readily see. Gary—the sturdy, hardly visible, but absolutely essential setting—which most miss for the flash of the diamond. Without the right setting, the diamond is homeless. Gary is the setting for Shabazz’s diamond. Gary is the wind beneath Shabazz’s wings.
So I have no need to say “good-bye” to Gary. Rather, on behalf of myself and my dear friend, I say, “thank you.”
Dear Shabazz, I know words are inadequate at this time, but I wanted to tell you how very sorry I am for your loss. The loss of a spouse is a tragic event, and I can only imagine the pain and suffering you are experiencing When I think of you and Gary, I think of you as spouses and best friends. You two loved, supported, and accepted each other for who you truly were. Anyone that entered your home was immediately struck by its peaceful and serene environment, which so well-suited Gary. I remember his warm welcome the first time I visited. Gary greeted me with a jubilant smile as if truly happy to meet me. It wasn’t long before he retired to his man cave to leave us to snack and chat about this and that. Before leaving I dropped in to tell him goodbye to find him in his favorite spot. There he was enjoying Law and Order along with the two cats (Miles and Baby) and three dogs (Bullet, Princess and Storm) by his side. I soon found whenever Gary moved, they all accompanied him throughout the house. They too adored Gary! Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to share your space where there was an undeniable love between you and Gary. It transcended all strengths and weaknesses. Love was present in your home and accounted for. As you try to move forward know that death ends a life not a relationship! May the Lord continue to soothe your pain, protect you, and guide your steps during this difficult time. In Sympathy and Friendship, Alice Walker
MISS ME BUT LET ME GO When I come to the end of the road, And the sun has set for me, I want no rites in a gloom-filled room. Why cry for a soul set free? Miss me a little-But not for long And not with your head bowed low. Remember the love that once we shared. Miss me, but let me go. For this is a journey we must all take, And each must go alone. It's all part of the master plan, A step on the road to home. When you are lonely and sick at heart, Go to the friends we know. Laugh at all the things we used to do. Miss me, but let me go.
Graduation Photo 1961 Minerva Deland High School
Services by: John T. Rhines Funeral Home 1505 Kenilworth Avenue Washington DC 20019
Floral Arrangements: Bernice Taylor BT Flowers N Balloons 2334 2nd Street, NE Washington, DC 20002
Special Thanks to Nurse Sherley A. Smith & Our Daughter Mbachur Mbenga for supporting me and being there from start to finish.
The family wishes to acknowledge all the cards, support, and well wishes from friends, family, coworkers, and community.
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