The Gillman Family

Alcor Member Profile
From Cryonics May-June 2018

By Nicole Weinstock

More Alcor Member Profiles

“They always say that you’re not gonna know anyone [when you wake up],” says Stacia, describing the reaction of her teenage friends to her cryopreservation arrangements and life post-resuscitation. “I’m like, ‘Number one, my entire family is signed up, and number two, they have meetups. And when you come back to life, not only will you be the best history teacher in the world, you’ll be able to explain all the weird things going on nowadays that they won’t know about.’”


The Gillmanns celebrate Father’s Day of 2017 at the top of Seattle’s Smith Tower.

It’s not uncommon to see optimism and adventure in a cryonicist. But it is quite rare to meet one in her teens, and moreover, someone who is part of a family of cryonicists. The potential absence of family and, as a result, the essentiality of key traits, like independence and emotional resilience, typically exist as a packaged deal in the world of cryonics; we have many partners, siblings, parents and children, who, for one reason or another, may not have the same plans as their loved one. This is precisely what makes the Gillmann family of four—Shelly and Richard, and their teenage children, Stacia and Bobby—one of the most unusual member profiles to date. They are all signed-up cryonicists with Alcor. Parents Shelly and Richard joined around 2000, and their kids became members in 2012.

Bobby Gillmann Bobby takes a “puppy break” from his Hurricane Harvey relief work with AmeriCorps NCCC, where he is helping to rebuild storm damaged homes near Houston. Being up to his ears in these duties, he was unable to interview for this piece.

The Sunshine Years

Richard is originally from Homewood, Illinois (where it’s not particularly sunny). His father sold lumber and millwork and his mother was a part-time medical secretary. Richard had strong interests in science, music, and technology. “I traveled off to college at Caltech in Pasadena for my first flight in an airliner,” he says.

Unsurprisingly, Caltech boasted some amazing academic resources. “We got direct access to professors with Nobel Prizes.” But it didn’t quite have everything at that point. “It was a really nice place, but it wasn’t coed. There weren’t any girls,” laughs Richard. “The year after we left they ended that.”

Fortunately for him, a computer bulletin board system (BBS) would later link him to his future wife, but until then, Richard worked in a series of programming jobs after deciding that four years of undergrad was enough school for him. At one point, he even formed his own company to do software for the IBM PC that had just come out.

Shelly, on the other hand, was a valley girl. She spent most of her formative years in Studio City, North Hollywood, and the Pacific Palisades of Southern California. Unlike Richard, she attended college close to home, at Cal State Northridge. After earning her degree in Radio & TV Broadcasting, she worked at writing and producing videos and slideshows for businesses.

In the early 80s, Shelly and Richard met at a park in North Hollywood, at a picnic electronically organized on a computer bulletin board. Her primitive Commodore-64 computer only allowed 64 characters a line. They were friends for years before they dated and eventually wed in 1988.

The Great Northwest

Three hundred plus days of sun isn’t for everyone, so the now-Gillmann family started looking northward for a fresh start. “We took a surreptitious trip up to Seattle in the middle of January,” says Richard. “We assumed the weather would be the worst then, and we wanted to see if we could stand it.”

Sound advice for any hopeful northwesterners-to-be—and certainly those that hail from the tireless sunshine of the land down south—it served the Gillmanns well. Undeterred by the famous clouds and rain of the Emerald City environs, they made their move, settling down in Issaquah, a small city in King County, just twenty minutes’ drive outside of Seattle.

There, Richard worked in a managerial role at Microsoft for seven years—one that was a bit more of hiring and firing than suited his coder preferences. As with many challenges, though, it seems that humor prevailed with Richard. He describes the cafeteria with a chuckle: “There were 1,000 people eating lunch, and I’m the only one with grey hair.”

Nevertheless, these tradeoffs were wellrewarded when he managed to retire at the arguably enviable age of forty-nine. But unlike most nearly-fifties, he (and Shelly) decided to ring in the semicentennial with a trip to Siberia where they would adopt their now-teenage children, Bobby and Stacia.

From Russia with Love

Apart from the obvious reason, the two trips leading up to the parental finale were quite memorable. Says Richard, “We get to Novosibirsk, and it’s a city of two million people and it had two hotels. And Issaquah is a town of 30,000 people and has three hotels. We got out to our hotel and they said we didn’t have a reservation. Not very service oriented, they said, ‘Well, you can take a suite.’ And it was like, $140. We were the rich Americans.”


Richard and Shelly at Red Square in Moscow in 2002, on their first of two trips to Russia to adopt Bobby and Stacia.

Apart from the hospitality, Russia also presented a new perspective on a beloved American pastime. “It was twenty-five below zero,” Richard notes, “and they were selling ice cream from an outside stand, and people were lined up to buy it. They had a cooler to keep it warm!”

Shelly and Richard traveled to the village of Cherepanono, where the baby home staff introduced them to two biological siblings, a girl who was nineteen months old and a boy of four years. Enter Stacia and Bobby....

All Aboard

For many, it might seem a bit coercive to sign up one’s children for cryonics. And Richard and Shelly would agree with you 100%. As a matter of fact, Bobby and Stacia didn’t become Alcor members until several years into their lives, and as a result of some very persuasive arguments on their end as well.

The elder Gillmanns had always been open about their cryonics arrangements, as well as other choices that people make for (after) their death. This was forefronted when Shelly’s father’s health began to decline. “We told [our kids] from the beginning, that when my dad passed, we knew he was going to be dying. He had a prognosis, and I also knew that he had elected to be cremated. We talked to them about the various arrangements people can make for the dead.”

It wasn’t long before Bobby and Stacia pointed out that “kids die, too!” and they all made the collective decision to sign them up as well.


The Gillmanns en route to the bus stop in 2010 with their beloved pets, Ricco and Ruby.


Richard and Stacia celebrate her twelfth birthday in 2013 with a Segway tour of Edmonds in the Seattle area.

Some Words to the Wise

Richard and Shelly financed their cryopreservation with single-payment universal life insurance policies. The decision to pursue a prepaid policy was influenced, in part, by their experiences watching elders grapple with aging, and its many challenges. Richard notes “I’ve seen this with some people who get old. They can no longer take care of their financial affairs.”

He and Shelly also went to great pains to word their Medical Power of Attorney document so their wishes would be respected: “We took the standard form and inserted a paragraph in bold letters saying that we want ‘extraordinary measures taken’ until our cryonics standby team is there and ready, and then pull the plug.... I know from experience that these hospitals and doctors kind of ignore these things anyway. But at least you got some paperwork there, in case you’re unconscious.”

In addition to the improved execution of wills, Richard is also hopeful that one day the local mortician and coroner will better acknowledge cryonics, and the special needs and essence of timing involved. He’s a great advocate for the strategic separation of research and storage facilities, and ideally, the subterranean establishment of the latter in an entirely unremarkable rural area. “There could be wars, bombings, terrorist attacks, epidemics. If you’re way out in the middle of nowhere, that’s not going to affect you.... Even if there’s a nuclear war, they’re not gonna target a field in the middle of nowhere.” Another one of his ideas to optimize this hypothetical storage facility for unexpected conditions—political or otherwise—is to equip it with an on-site generator of liquid nitrogen. Though this is less cost-effective than a third party supply, it could help create a truly off-grid storage facility.

Shelly’s greatest concerns regarding their cryonics arrangements revolve around the logistics of moving from living to suspension. “Not everybody who dies is on some kind of life support machine that can be unplugged,” she notes. Shelly cites car crashes or other circumstances that do not permit a cryonicist to transfer to a hospice near Alcor as just a couple of challenges that influence this process.

Art Smart

As much as cryonics requires their basic—if not advanced—understanding of the sciences, the Gillmanns are quite the creative bunch. With a lifelong interest in music, Richard plays guitar, ukulele, keyboard, and more, and also teaches here and there for fun. He helped to start a ten watt radio station in high school, and volunteered as a radio DJ at KBCS for sixteen years and at Sirius/XM for two years, creating a top 70s music chart for the Folk Alliance every year for over a decade. He might warm his home studio with the sounds of classics like Joni Mitchell or Bob Dylan, John McCutcheon or Utah Phillips.


Richard on the air at KBCS-FM.


Richard playing music on his ukulele.

Shelly, on the other hand, is drawn towards more tactile arts in her free time. When she and Richard first moved to to the Seattle area, she got involved in the Northwest Bead Society, first as an attendee, and later as a leader and an occasional teacher, leading the group in a bead craft once a year or so. She also explores other jewelry-making techniques, glass fusing, and scrapbooking, to name a few.


A necklace Shelly beaded for her mother-in-law as part of the NWBS (Northwest Bead Society) 2012 Bead Retreat challenge. Photo courtesy of Karen Williams.

With respect to the scrapbooking subset of her crafting, Shelly has been particularly keen to work on Pocket Letter Pals as of the last few years. She discovered it while juggling her own home remodel and the aftermath of her mom’s passing— organizing her belongings, selling her house, donating various items, etc. “Our house is very open, and so when when we had noisy remodelers, the downstairs was basically a woodshop, I got into paper crafting more.”

A very niche subset of this craft area, Pocket Letter Pals is a web-organized combination of scrapbook-meets-pen pal. “Someone comes up with some idea, let’s say it’s Groundhog’s Day. ‘Sign up for a partner by such and such a date, we’ll assign partners by this date, and your swap is due by this later date.’” Shelly adds, “I have made some nice acquaintances, and it stretches the creativity.” Not to mention it helped her create a solid reward system for doing the often less-than-exciting tasks of rifling through boxes.

Shelly’s passion for art is also intertwined with her giving nature. She’s volunteered to teach creative projects through her kids’ extracurricular activities and schools throughout the years, in addition to a leadership role at the Northwest Bead Society. When Stacia was charged with leading her Girl Scout troop in earning a badge, Shelly helped her and her partner craft and led their troop in creating a “wearable art badge” using simplified macrame knotting. One of the troopers even took their lesson to the next level, designing more complicated iterations of this piece thereafter. “I loved seeing Stacia and her partner grow as leaders. I loved seeing that one of our crafts further inspired one of the other girls so much, and I loved that I had forged the kind of relationships with these girls where one would be so excited to share that with me.”


Shelly shows students in Stacia’s fourth grade class the finished class art piece before it was sold at their Sunset Elementary School auction. Each rectangle of fiber in this piece was woven by one of the students during a class lesson which she led.

Jewelry can be for gents too, as Shelly’s volunteerism with Bobby’s former school, LEADPrep, illustrated. She taught students how to do Viking knit necklaces or bracelets, an activity that helped bring some classroom history lessons to life.

Visions of the Future

When it comes to the future, no one has better ideas than Stacia. “You know the Back to the Future movie? It’s kind of a mixture of that and that Spongebob episode where everything is frozen and Squidward’s in a ball on the floor and he’s like, ‘fuuuuuuu-tuuuuuuuuure.’”

I’m admittedly rough on my Spongebob trivia, but this sounds intriguing to me. In Stacia’s imagination, the future will boast one world government, possibly centered in London, with regional leaders that will meet regularly. Cars will accommodate more people, like a train, in different rooms. Food will grow in vertical gardens and genetic engineering will prevail, but without its current stigma. And the outdoors will be lit by floating lights.

“I imagine it in sections. I don’t imagine everything at once. Things as simple as a chair. I just think about all the possibilities of what chairs could look like. If you look at history, chairs have come a long way, and just how much longer could they go?”

Observing beauty in the past, and shaping it as inspiration for the future. Stacia may be the youngest of the Gillmanns, and one of the youngest cryonicists in the world to boot, but I do believe there’s a beautiful chunk of wisdom, and a solid piece of encouragement, in her question. Family Gillmann is well-positioned to enjoy the unknown that lies ahead.


Shelly, Richard and Stacia in Havana, Cuba during the spring of 2017.

 

More Alcor Member Profiles