More MS news articles for April 2001

No Diagnosis Can Keep This Fighter From Fray
Long a community activist, Gail Reavis hasn't let multiple sclerosis slow her down. She has worked against an airport and last year won a City Council seat.

Monday, April 2, 2001
By TINA BORGATTA, Times Staff Writer

Tenacity drives Mission Viejo City Councilwoman Gail Reavis, whether it's fighting development of Fullerton's Coyote Hills, an airport at El Toro or the effects of multiple sclerosis.

She may have lost the battle on Coyote Hills, but she said she's determined to triumph on the other fronts.

It is that spirit that won her recognition last month by the Orange County chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

"She's a remarkable individual who has volunteered her time all over the county," said Jamie MacDonald, president of the chapter, which will honor Reavis with an achievement award at the group's annual dinner in November.

Reavis, 51, was diagnosed eight years ago with multiple sclerosis, a debilitating disease that strikes the nervous system. But she has refused to give in to it.

"I don't think it's slowed me down," she said. "There are so many ways to live life to the fullest."

Reavis' role as a community activist dates to the 1970s, when she lived in the then-undeveloped Coyote Hills area of Fullerton. She enjoyed hearing the call of the coyotes at night and watching them scamper across the hills. She joined the Coyote Hills Open Space Organization to Save Your Environment, but the group's fight to protect the area from development would ultimately fail.

By the late 1980s, she was battling on a different front, becoming a familiar face at the Orange County Board of Supervisors meetings. She gave voice to concerns over toxic contamination at the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station and opposition to the development of a commercial airport at the site.

In between meetings and her own research on the future of the military base, she was poked and prodded and examined by doctors hoping to find an explanation for the numbness and tingling that she had begun to experience on the left side of her body.

Soon after her marriage in 1993, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. The diagnosis ended her search for answers, but not her activism.

She joined the El Toro Restoration Advisory Board, a group overseeing toxic cleanup at the base, and founded an anti-airport group in the retirement community of Palmia, where she now lives in Mission Viejo. A retired secretary, she also worked on the Measure F campaign, gathering the signatures needed to put the anti-airport initiative on the ballot.

Last year, amid concerns about city spending, Reavis decided she could do a better job of governing and ran for City Council. During the campaign she declined to disclose her multiple sclerosis because she didn't want it to affect the way voters viewed her.

As a councilwoman, she keeps office hours at City Hall every Thursday from 10 a.m. to noon so that residents can pop in and express their concerns, share their opinions or ask questions. She spends hours each week studying city issues--and it shows, colleagues said.

"She's extremely tenacious, very thorough, conscientious and always impeccably well-prepared," said fellow council member John Paul Ledesma.

Though she's earned the respect of many in the community, her husband is her biggest fan.

"The courage this woman has is unbelievable," Rick Reavis said. "She's not going to let a little thing like MS slow her down."

Reavis acknowledges that the disease has forced her "to change a few things." She can't country swing dance the way she used to. But she's learned how to adapt and listen to her body. She makes sure she gets plenty of rest and forces herself to stop when she begins to feel fatigued.

Reavis' many friends admire the pace she keeps and her perseverance. "She does not feel sorry for herself at all," longtime friend Mary Aposhian said. "Every once in a while she may stumble . . . but she just smiles and says, 'I'm OK.' She never complains, and I admire her for that."

Bob Mellon, who has known Reavis for almost 20 years, said she's an inspiration.

"Gail is probably one of the most driven individuals I know," Mellon said. "She just never stops."

Copyright 2001 Los Angeles Times