Mission ends

Cd'A native killed, husband hurt in rescue attempt

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Gayle Jean Young Lee always thought of Coeur d'Alene as her hometown, said her husband, Gary J. Lee.

"We have a lot of friends and family in Coeur d'Alene," Gary said Friday from their home in Rigby, north of Idaho Falls.

Gayle died April 22 in Tongatapu, Tonga, while on a two-week humanitarian visit to provide health care services to residents who could not afford to pay for such care. Tonga is a group of islands in the south Pacific Ocean.

Gayle, 59, was born in Coeur d'Alene in March 1951, and graduated from Coeur d'Alene High School. She earned a nursing degree from North Idaho College.

Gayle fell from a high cliff into the water in a semi-secluded area on the island of Tongatapu, which is the most populated island in Tonga.

Gary said a small amount of rock from Hufangalupe cliff broke off, causing the fall.

"I went down after her," said Gary, who broke ribs and suffered some cuts and bruises trying to rescue his wife.

Gary, 61, and Gayle were on the island with students from Brigham Young University-Idaho, where Gayle has been a nursing professor since 1996. The group included 23 students and one of the student's spouse, Gary said.

The group arrived there April 17, and planned to leave at the end of the month, Gary said. Gayle and the students were working at an island hospital and some community clinics.

It was the fourth time Gary and Gayle, both members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, visited Tonga together for humanitarian work.

"She has quite a legacy down there," Gary said Friday. "Her life was almost totally dedicated to serving others."

She served in her church, at the university, and in her community, he said.

In addition to Tonga, she also had done humanitarian work in Israel.

Years before Gayle had ever traveled to Tonga, Gary had first landed there while serving as a missionary.

"She always wanted to know if those stories I told her about Tonga were true," he said. She found the beauty of the islands and the character of the people just as he described.

"She felt true love from the people," Gary said. She was well known there for her humanitarian work.

After she died, "The Tonga government was well represented at her memorial," he said.

Following the tragedy, he has heard from many others offering their condolences.

"I've got a stack of cards about a foot and a half high," he said.

Teri Hyatt, formerly Teri Budvarson, was a close friend of Gayle's from ninth grade through their senior year in high school. Hyatt said they also were friends at church, both being involved in the church music program. They taught younger kids music.

"I just loved being around her," said Hyatt, who is four days younger than Gayle. "She was always fun, always happy."

Hyatt currently lives in Elko, Nev., and spoke by phone.

"She was everybody's friend," Hyatt said. "She treated them all well. It was a real shock to hear she passed away."

Gayle and Gary celebrated their 38th wedding anniversary about a month ago, Gary said. The couple have five children and 10 grandchildren.

Gary also was a Coeur d'Alene High School graduate, and they were members of the same church, and had close families growing up.

After earning a nursing degree from NIC, Gayle went on to Gonzaga University to earn a bachelor's degree, then to Florida Atlantic University and then the University of Idaho, finishing with a doctorate degree.

In her free time, she liked to ride horses, motorcycles, and spend time with members of her family.

Gary said he and Gayle visited Coeur d'Alene every year, and Gayle always looked forward to visiting family and friends here.

"It was home," he said.

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