ST. PETERSBURG — Gail Warren gives the camera a quizzical look, a wine glass in each hand. The photo, taken in July at a wine-tasting festival in Park City, Utah, now sits in a heavy frame. It rests in a kitchen in Yacht Club Estates amid an organized clutter that still bears her stamp.
Mrs. Warren would not drink from either glass. Her chemotherapy forbade it.
Hiking and white-water tubing were okay, however, and she did both on the same trip. Before the cancer would finish what it had started, she would work every day at Menorah Manor and join her family on a Caribbean cruise.
Mrs. Warren, a social worker who used her wits and abundant energy to benefit others, died Oct. 21 of renal cancer. She was 49.
Her death leaves a void at Menorah Manor, where she directed hundreds of volunteers, and Congregation B'nai Israel, where Mrs. Warren had been chosen the next president.
Gail Bresinger earned a degree at Dominican College and a master of social work at Fordham University in New York, both near her Brooklyn roots.
While working at a hospital in West Haverstraw in 1988, she met Steven Warren, then an orthopedic resident. "She made me feel like I was better than I really was," Dr. Warren, 50, told nearly 500 mourners at Congregation B'nai Israel at her funeral Oct. 23.
They married in 1989. By then, Mrs. Warren's mother, Annette Bresinger, was dying of lung cancer. The death of her mother at age 58 influenced Mrs. Warren personally and professionally.
"Her mom gave her words of guidance about how she should carry on her life and pursue her passions," Dr. Warren recalled.
One of those passions was hands-on care for the disadvantaged, which Mrs. Warren found plenty of at Bayfront Medical Center after the Warrens moved to St. Petersburg in 1991.
Mrs. Warren never forgot the impact her mother's death had on her father. She started a support group for widows and widowers at Gulf Coast Jewish Family Services.
Family photos capture a squeaky-clean woman with strawberry blond hair and eyes that absorbed the world like a wide-angle lens. She nourished her native smarts with multiple books a week and cutthroat games of mahjong with girlfriends.
She was usually up for a trip, around the world with her husband or walking 60 miles for breast cancer, then showing off her blisters to co-workers at Menorah Manor.
As director of volunteer services at the nonprofit geriatric center, she found volunteers of all ages to work with residents in activities from reading aloud to art classes or discussion groups.
"She was good at honing in on what interests volunteers have. She could find them the appropriate job," said July Ludin, Menorah Manor's spokeswoman.
Mrs. Warren also served as head cheerleader for volunteers, greeting them daily and planning a yearly appreciation luncheon.
The Warrens were drawing up plans for their next travel adventure when bad news came in December. Doctors had discovered breast cancer. Mrs. Warren underwent a double mastectomy.
That cancer did not return. What no one knew was that a second cancer — of the kidneys — was growing inside her.
By the time she complained in March of abdominal pain, doctors found the cancer had spread throughout her body.
No previous screenings would have caught it. "There is no work-up for breast cancer that includes evaluating your kidneys," Dr. Warren said. Nor could anyone blame her lifestyle. Mrs. Warren ate carefully, drank lightly and exercised nearly every day.
After a short break, Mrs. Warren returned to work, where she remained until early October. She went on several more trips, including the one in July with friends that included a 3-mile hike in Utah.
"At one point she was out front, crossing streams and leading us down the mountain," said friend Liz Sembler.
The last week of her life, Mrs. Warren wrote a letter to her friends, and longer letters each to her children, Allison and Michael, and her husband — offering thanks and encouragement, as her mother had once done for her.
"I do not see this as an ending," she wrote.
Reach Andrew Meacham at (727) 892-2248 or [email protected]