Gayla Hope Halbrecht
Aug 30, 1936 - Jan 15, 2021.
Gayla Hope Schildhaus Halbrecht died unexpectedly in her sleep early Friday morning, January 15, 2021, of an apparent heart attack. Gayla was not ill, and was athletic by any standard, but especially for an 84-year old. She skied well into her 70s, competing in Senior NASTAR races, worked out regularly with her personal trainer, danced frequently, including the tango, and especially loved golfing, schlepping her clubs around the world.
Gayla was born August 30, 1936, to Rashe Perelman Schildhaus and Leo James Schildhaus. They raised her in Burlington, Vermont with her siblings, Jessica, Aaron and Laura, all of whom are a bit surprised to survive her. Living nearby, or at least visiting in the summers, were the entire Perelman clan including 20 cousins of Gayla's generation. Although many moved over the years to Canada, Israel, and throughout the U.S., they sustained their "Cousins' club," maintaining close contact with and deep affection for each other.
Gayla graduated from the University of Vermont in 1957 with a degree in biochemistry. A stint at Albert Einstein College of Medicine led to a sabbatical at the Weitzman Institute in Israel, then back to the United States to work in Washington, DC, at the National Institutes of Health. That's when she met the man who finally swept her off her feet, Herbert Halbrecht. After five years of marriage and two children, they moved to Westport, Connecticut in 1969, where Gayla became immersed in the Westport chapter of the Jewish women's group, Hadassah. She served in every role the chapter had, including several years as the chapter's president. Over the years, Gayla developed many interests and even new careers, including: craft art consignment gallery owner, interior decorator and travel agent. Early in her Westport years she took up golf at the Longshore Club, which became a passion of hers. She also continued skiing.
In 1993, Herb and Gayla moved to Durham, North Carolina, and started anew. Having sung for years in Connecticut's Fairfield County Chorale, when she relocated she founded the Triangle Jewish Chorale. This organization thrived in the last 25 years to become an institution in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area. She also continued to play golf, earning accolades at many courses, including a few games that included a hole-in-one.
When Herb died in 2011, Gayla did not slow down. She continued travelling, adding many countries to her list of places not just visited, but truly explored. It took a global pandemic to cut short her world travels to 59 countries across six continents. In her last several years she spent most of the year based in the Durham area. However, in the winter months she lived with her sister Laura, in Florida, where golfing was more pleasant. COVID prevented her from going to Florida this winter, but not from playing her favorite game, and she enjoyed 9 holes on her last day.
Gayla leaves her much-loved siblings, and her nieces and nephews and their children, all of whom she adored. She is survived by her daughter, Beth (Brad) in Greenwich, CT, and son, Ari (Jill) in Wake Forest, NC, and treasured grandchildren Aliya, Josiah and Elias Boyer, and Max and Sam Halbrecht. She also is survived by her good friend, Barry, who taught her to tango, and whose friendship meant the world to her. Gayla's many dear friends from all stages of her life will miss her in the chorale, on the greens, and at the JCC. Due to COVID restrictions, the funeral will occur graveside, and shiva calls will be conducted via Zoom. Leo P. Gallagher & Sons Funeral Home in Stamford, CT is handling arrangements. The family asks that those who wish to make a donation in Gayla's memory do so to the organization of their choice. They also encourage you to live life like Gayla did, with verve and enjoying every precious moment it offers!
Published in Westport-News on Jan. 25, 2021.