Gabe Zimmerman was a passionate social worker with a combination of softness and maturity. A warm and gentle soul with a "Leave It to Beaver" smile that could resolve any argument, friends and colleagues said Monday during a memorial service.
It was that smile that earned him the nickname "the Beav," Eric Alfrey, a friend and former classmate, told a crowd of about 200 people gathered on a sunny Tucson morning to honor the slain aide to U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
"When I see Gabe, I see a golden sunset and a crisp night sky. I see endless possibilities," Alfrey said. "When I see Gabe, I see a silly silver bike, riding around the back streets of Tucson. I see comfy chairs, frozen carne asada burritos and pictures of friends."
The public memorial was held in the courtyard of a local branch of the Arizona State University School of Social Work, 320 N. Commerce Park Loop - the same courtyard where Zimmerman and Alfrey first met.
Zimmerman, 30, worked as a director of community outreach for Giffords. He was the "go-to guy," always the first one there to help whenever it was needed, Alfrey said. And on Jan. 8, when he saw Giffords and co-worker Ron Barber get shot, he did just that - he ran over to help.
Zimmerman died from a gunshot wound that morning at the "Congress on Your Corner" event at a northwest-side supermarket, where a gunman opened fire, killing the aide and five others. Giffords was critically injured.
Ross Zimmerman said he would do anything to have his son back, but knowing that Gabe died trying to help others gave him some comfort.
"I told Gabe once that he really ended up in a job that was perfect for him," Ross Zimmerman said. "I can still remember how nervous he was before the first 'Congress on Your Corner.' He wanted to make sure everything was right."
Working from Giffords' offices in Tucson and Sierra Vista, Zimmerman handled thousands of calls and visits from constituents, and he organized many events where the public could interact with the congresswoman.
It was a perfect job for Zimmerman, whom Alfrey remembers as "the one that never judges, the one you swear you've known your whole life." He had a way of connecting with people and knew that listening was the first step to helping them.
Audience members were each given a white carnation as they entered the courtyard. They also had the chance to stand up and share a memory of Zimmerman.
About a dozen people shared memories, all highlighting his never-ending care for others, especially those who are less fortunate. The Tucson native was an avid runner and athlete who twice hiked the Grand Canyon from the North Rim to the South.
Zimmerman graduated from University High School and earned a bachelor's degree in sociology from the University of California-Santa Cruz. He received a master's in social work from Arizona State University.
Zimmerman was engaged to Kelly O'Brien, a nurse at Tucson Medical Center who is a native of Yuma.
"He wanted to do what's right for Tucson and put in the work," Alfrey said. "He was ready to change the world."
Zimmerman's friends and family will continue to see "Gabe, the Beav," in golden sunsets, crisp night skies and silly silver bikes.
HOW TO HELP
Two scholarship funds have been established in honor of Gabe Zimmerman, the director of community outreach for U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who died in a shooting rampage on Jan. 8.
The family set up a fund in Zimmerman's name at Child & Family Resources, where Zimmerman served on the board.
Donations can be made online at www.childfamilyresources.org or mailed to Child & Family Resources, 2800 E. Broadway, Tucson, AZ 85716.
For more information, call 321-3778 or e-mail email@example.com
Meanwhile, two alumni of the University of California-Santa Cruz set up a scholarship fund in his memory.
• The Tucson YWCA has set up the Gabe Zimmerman endowment fund. Contributions can be made at the YWCA Tucson at 525 N. Bonita Ave.
• Tucson Tragedy Victim Fund. How to contribute: Send a check to Homicide Survivors Inc. (memo line: Tucson Tragedy Victim Fund), 32 N. Stone Ave., Suite 1408, Tucson, AZ 85701. Contributions are tax-deductible.
• Tragedy in Tucson Victims' Fund. How to contribute: Go to www.kvoa.com/pages/tragedy-in-tucson-time-to-heal
• The American Red Cross Southern Arizona Chapter is accepting donations for those who wish to honor U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. How to contribute: Go to www.red crossarizona.org/giffords
• The Community Food Bank is accepting donations. How to contribute: Go to communityfood bank.com
Contact reporter Fernanda Echavarri at 573-4224 or firstname.lastname@example.org