Gail Ouellette, a breakfast and lunch cook in Dining Services who worked at the College for 35 years, died on April 17 at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in Bennington, Vt. She was 68.
Ouellette most recently worked at Whitman’s, where she was a beloved co-worker and an integral part of the morning shift. She formed especially close relationships with students who worked for Dining Services and other regulars at Paresky. They remember her as the staff member who reached out to them during their first days on campus and could always lift their spirits with a laugh or a smile.
Patrick Zhuang ’21, who worked with Ouellette at Whitman’s, recalled that she served as a role model when he started his student job. He first met Ouellette during First Days as a frequent diner at Paresky, and her kindness made an immediate impression. A month later, he applied to join Dining Services, and Ouellette took him under her wing.
“Gail helped me realize that it does not take much to make others’ days better,” Zhuang said. “I was very shy when I first started working, but Gail patiently taught me how to operate the machines in the dining service and introduced me to the different people I would be working with in the next year.”
Ouellette previously worked at Mission Park during her three-and-half-decade tenure at the College. She was born in Adams, Mass. in 1952 and graduated from Adams Memorial High School before attending the former North Adams State College, now MCLA. She came to Dining Services in 1985.
Beyond her key role in building community and mentoring student workers, Ouellette was known for her unusual ability to memorize students’ favorite made-to-order meals. She would often start to prepare the food as soon as she saw the student enter the dining area.
MarChé Daughtry ’19 is one former student who remembered that Ouellette would begin her meal ahead of time. But Daughtry added that Ouellette would do so much more for her.
“Being a blind student with multiple chronic illnesses, when I came to Paresky during her shift, Gail would walk me through the line and explain what was being offered,” Daughtry said. “She would also help me find an empty seat in the hall and sometimes assisted me in clearing my tray when I was finished.”
She said that Ouellette was always excited to see her and never minded helping out, no matter how busy the dining area was. More than anything, she emphasized that Ouellette made the day-to-day routine of grabbing a meal memorable and fun.
“I’ll remember her telling me which desserts I should try and wrapping my favorite desserts to go,” Daughtry said. “I’ll remember how, when she hadn’t seen me in a couple of days, she’d always ask me where I’d been and wondered whether I’d been eating.”
Both Daughtry and Zhuang said that they would miss her sense of humor, which Dining Services’ Unit Manager Lisa Champagne described as “infectious” in an all-community letter from President Maud S. Mandel on April 21.
Daughtry recounted how Ouellette and her co-workers in Dining Services, cook’s assistants Lili Rice and Sarah Tovani, would always “play fight” over which staff member at Whitman’s was Daughtry’s favorite person. The back-and-forth was a large part of what made Daughtry’s dining experience at Paresky enjoyable.
“She made me laugh and kept a smile on my face when I was around,” Daughtry said. “I’ll miss her dearly.”
Zhuang added that Ouellette would help him get in the right frame of mind for the upcoming day when he went to breakfast half-awake by cracking jokes. He said that she also would give him advice during their shared shifts on how to prepare certain dishes, knowledge that he uses all the time now that he often cooks with friends. Other student co-workers noted that she would graciously let them take leftover food and borrow equipment from the kitchens.
“Gail definitely made my day better while we were at Williams,” Zhuang said.
Ouellette is predeceased by her husband George Belanger, who died in 2014. Belanger was the owner and operator of the Hollow Bore Co. in Pownal, Vt., where they lived. He was also employed as a mechanic at George’s Gulf Station on Route 2 in Williamstown for several years.
She is survived by her daughter Megan Belanger of Pownal, her brother Michael Ouellette of Adams, her granddaughter Adalynn Rose and many nieces and nephews, including Julie Sniezek, who works as a project manager in Planning Design and Construction in Facilities.