A Celebration of Life
The Story of Gus and Eleanor Guastaferro
When Gus Guastaferro speaks of his family, his whole face lights up like the sky he spent so many years exploring at NASA. But when he speaks of his late wife Eleanor, it's his eyes that tell the story. They so clearly reflect the love, the pride, the admiration he feels for her. And sadness of her passing. But most of all, they reflect the joys he remembers of their life together.
Eleanor died six years ago of the cancer she had battled with courage and dignity since 1998. Like so many in the Williamsburg area, she was a patient of the iconic Dr. Mark E. Ellis and his Peninsula Cancer Institute. Late last year, Gus honored his wife and paid tribute to Dr. Ellis with a donation to the Riverside Foundation and the Dr. Mark E. Ellis Endowment Fund for Cancer Care Advancement. There is an interesting story connected to Gus's support to the Riverside Health Foundation.
"I was mentoring some students in the William & Mary School of Business as a member of the Executive Partners program. They were working on a research project for Riverside's Lifelong Health and Aging Division. I was listening as Debbie Atkinson gave the students a presentation about the Foundation's work, including the Dr. Mark E. Ellis Endowment Fund for Cancer Care Advancement. I was impressed and moved. Suddenly, I wanted to do something."
After the presentation, Gus talked with Debbie about his desire to make a contribution in remembrance of Eleanor, and to express his gratitude to Dr. Ellis and the team because they had given so much to help his wife, him, and his family. "By the end of the conversation," Gus recalls, "I could almost hear my wife talking to me ‘Gus, you've got to do this."
"It just seemed the right time and the perfect way to say thank you and to give something of significance back to the community at the same time," Gus says. "The meeting, the conversation with Debbie afterward, it all brought forward memories of Eleanor, and how Dr. Ellis had given her extra years of life to be with us."
As Gus tells it, the story of his wife's final days is a truly remarkable one of her strength, dignity, elegance, and selfless concern for everyone around her. Eleanor Guastaferro fought hard for more than half a decade before the cancer prevailed and her condition became terminal. At that point and in consultation with Dr. Ellis, she went into palliative care. "We set up her bed in the family room, brought the family in (including eight grandchildren), and spent those last days together," Gus says.
Eleanor was determined that there would be no pity, no sorrow, no tears; rather she wanted her last days to be a celebration of life. Gus says, "We actually had a ‘Celebration of Life' party with friends and family at my wife's insistence. I remember another time when she became concerned that the grandchildren needed something to do rather than sitting around her bedside. We had hundreds of loose family photographs lying around, so she set the kids to labeling and putting them all in albums." She even made Gus promise to do something special with the whole family on the first anniversary of her death. "We had a kind of family meeting and decided to go on a cruise to Hawaii. It was another celebration of her life in a way."
After a long career with NASA and the aerospace industry, Gus is now a Williamsburg retiree who has a strong desire to support his community and make contributions where it will assist people fighting cancer and other chronic illnesses.
Speaking about his contribution to the Riverside Foundation, Gus says simply, "It's the right thing to do. I know it will be put to good use. I hope maybe it will inspire others to give part of themselves to this Foundation. Believe me, you'll feel better about yourself if you do."