50 Over 50 Project for 2021


Gail Pellerin

Age: 58

Retired – Santa Cruz County Clerk/Registrar of Voters

"Your voice matters. Do not second guess your contribution to the conversation. You are more capable than you can even imagine. Be loud and be bold."

Gail Pellerin

What is the best thing about being your age?

I am able to accept who I am and embrace discomfort by looking back at the many challenges I have overcome.

What hardships have you endured that you feel have made you stronger?

There are two significant hardships that stand out in my life.

I was raised by a patriarchal father who believed women were subordinate to men. He was also physically and verbally abusive. I worked since I was 13 because I had to buy my own clothes and cover all of my expenses except for food and housing. I escaped my toxic home environment when I was 18 and paid my own way through college. Years of therapy helped me confront my difficult childhood and helped me become the resilient person I am today.

In November 2018, my husband, Tom, died by suicide. I didn’t know a lot about suicide or mental illness at that time. Since his death, I have become a vocal advocate for mental health and suicide prevention. Our children, now ages 23 and 25, have suffered much from the tragic loss of their father. Our journey to healing has been paved by the love and support of our friends and family. I’ve learned that you can live with grief, it’s something that many of us carry every day. I have also learned that joy, gratefulness, and forgiveness can be embraced even on your toughest days, and life is an adventure that I cherish.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

2020 was a tumultuous year. When the pandemic shutdown hit right after the March 3 Primary Election, there was so much uncertainty about how to respond. County offices throughout the state closed down. However, I decided to remain open by appointment and continue to serve people whose wedding plans had suddenly been cancelled. At one point, I was the only County Clerk’s Office in the state that was open and issuing marriage licenses and conducting weddings. We installed plexiglass dividers, wore masks, disinfected after every customer, and limited the number of people who could be in our wedding room. I and one other staff person managed the office and served our customers until June when staff gradually started returning to work. It warmed my heart to be able to provide these couples with a way to begin their happily ever after, even during a pandemic. Love is essential! The second part of the year we conducted the November 2020 Presidential General Election. Conducting an election in a pandemic on the heels of the tragic fires was no easy task. Everything had to change. Everyone was mailed a ballot, we installed a number of ballot drop boxes, we conducted in-person voting over several days at various locations, we purchased a Votemobile to provide access to voting throughout the county, and we ended the day with Brazilian drummers at the county building “drumming up the vote.” It was my dream election, with a record number of voters. It was thrilling. Voting was cool. After that incredible election, I decided to step down as County Clerk at the end of 2020 after more the 35 years in public service.

What's your favorite thing you have checked off your bucket list?

I have not had the opportunity to travel as much as I would like. I had always dreamed of seeing the Eiffel Tower. When I was invited to observe an election in Artsakh in 2015, I learned that the flight to Armenia was via Moscow or Paris. I was able to do a one-night layover in Paris. When I saw the Eiffel Tower for the first time, I sobbed. I was overcome with emotion.

What is your most treasured possession?

I love photography and have put together several annual family albums and albums of each of my children from birth through high school. When the CZU fires threatened the Westside of Santa Cruz, those were the first items I packed up and brought to my office to keep them safe.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Sitting around a table with my entire family, talking, laughing, eating a good meal, and enjoying each other’s company. A steady flow of wine makes it even happier!

What is a trait you are most proud of?

I am a giver.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

When something goes wrong or I am stressed, I tend to go to the worst-case scenario. I need to breathe and relax more during those times.

what is your greatest extravagance?

In 2020 when there was a toilet paper shortage, I splurged on a Toto washlet bidet toilet seat. It is a life changer! I can’t believe I have lived this many years without one. I told all my friends that they had to buy one. My bum has never been better!

What do you most value in your friends?

I am truly blessed to have the most amazing friends on the planet. They are loyal, and I know they care for me as much as I care for them. They are honest, give great advice, and are incredible listeners. They are there for me in good times and bad.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Don’t take yourself too seriously. Relax. Travel. Push the boundaries of your comfort zone. Try new things. Keep a journal and note what you are grateful for every day. Stay present and grounded in the moment as much as you can.

What is your motto or favorite quote?

I always tell my kids, “The only thing permanent in life is change.”

But I also love: “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming 'Wow! What a Ride!'” – Hunter S. Thompson

“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou

Words of wisdom for younger women

Speak up, speak clearly, and maintain eye contact. Your voice matters. Do not second guess your contribution to the conversation. You are more capable than you can even imagine. Be loud and be bold. Love yourself exactly as you are.

I have used a few key phrases in my career that helped me: “Let me speak.”
“I just said that.”
“No explanation needed.”

Additional thoughts about aging...

I think everyone should do it!

Gail Pellerin
Gail Pellerin