Kenneth S. Gaines - Obituary

In Memoriam, 1945-2023

After spending much of 2023 in a painful and confusing battle against unrelenting cancer, our Dad, Kenneth Steven Gaines, succumbed to the disease early this morning, in the comfort of his bed and surrounded by his wife, Pamela Gaines, and us, his four children – Wendy Smith, Amy Gaines, Evan Gaines and Daniel Gaines. Our wonderful Dad was a man of gusto who lived by the mantra “if a little is good, a lot has got to be better.” And excess was his game - Dad dragged a willing Pamela all over the world many times over, taking hundreds of vacations to big, flashy cities and sleepy villages all over Europe (France was his favorite), Asia, Africa, India, and every continent - Yes, that includes Antarctica. His final dying sentiments may well have been a combination of disappointment — that the Europe trip he planned for late November would have to be cancelled — and relief — that his cherished frequent flyer miles would be refunded without penalty.

Our beautiful Dad was an accomplished lawyer and legal scholar, always ready to provide thoughtful and balanced guidance when we were sensible enough to turn to him, but wise enough to know that a heavy-handed approach may backfire. Consequently, Dad was gentle at the right times, but forthright when he knew it was what we needed. We all recall moments when he would preface a tough-but-necessary conversation with something along the lines of, “You need someone to tell you the truth, and that person is me.” We knew he was right, and we trusted him (most of the time, but that’s another story) because we knew he cared deeply and his only motivation was our long term growth and happiness.

Always on the hunt for a great adventure, our Dad was also partial to unconventional and oftentimes controversial conversations - he relentlessly sought thought partners who would engage in arguments for the sheer sport of partaking in challenging intellectual discourse. Dad was an insightful and loving man who willingly shared his vulnerabilities so that we, his children, could grow and benefit by proxy from his insecurities, hangups, and struggles. I can’t say his plan always worked - each of us has had struggles of our own from which he could not always protect us - although he certainly tried mightily. Reflecting on the gift of being his children, perhaps the greatest gift he gave us was one of perpetual love, enduring warmth, and constant merciful forgiveness.

Dad was brilliant. He could manipulate numbers faster than our fingers could operate a calculator, he had a seemingly photographic memory and could recite facts, statistics, every meal he ever ate on every vacation, and legal policy dating back from his time in elementary school and everything he learned since then. Just last week, I sent him a quick email asking him to list the five dimensions of management and, of course, despite living in fairly constant excruciating pain by that point, he responded almost immediately (If you’re curious, the list is: planning, organizing, staffing, directing, and control. Nope, I have no idea where he got that, but I trust him implicitly. Update, Uncle Donny confirmed that he was right). He remembered and could recite street names, subway lines, and dates of things he did that one summer in New York City when he was 14. He read multiple newspapers every day, until mere hours before we lost him, and emailed each of us, including his older grandchildren, links to articles he thought we’d enjoy. He never lost his spark or his curiosity.

Dad was incredibly funny in an unpredictable and spontaneous way. We all grew up thinking our sense of humor could somehow be attributed to our genetic proximity to the New York immigrant Jewish community, as if that’s a thing that can even be transmitted (I think it is), but we learned as we got older that we were dealing with something quite distinct from even that brand of humor. We will spare you the details, but if you know any of us, now you know how we got this way.

Our Dad lived a life that probably appeared to be wildly conventional. He was a UCLA grad and a UC Hastings trained attorney who made a name and a living for himself in his field. But his success and influence did not corrupt him or lead him to shift his values away from the service and support of vulnerable, marginalized people. Our Dad was a lifelong progressive who never shied away from delving into the nuance and complexities of the controversial issues he loved exploring. He thrived on the pursuit of clarity within complex and difficult topics, and if you were anywhere near him, you’d better be prepared to engage. He was driven to learn from other people so he’d make every effort to draw people out and learn what they were thinking. Yet, he never wavered from what he knew was right - everyone must be treated with dignity and respect. Everyone. If you know our Dad, you would probably not be surprised to hear that he captured that general sentiment by declaring that he just hated everyone equally. Somehow that was a comfort to us because it revealed his struggles as a formerly awkward young boy who learned how to leverage his pain into a relatable and genuine aspect of his personality. He was so real.

Dad loved to talk. He made friends in restaurants, in elevators (awkward), in his neighborhood, with opposing counsel, on trains, airplanes, and at the gym. He loved to meet people, hear their stories, and share his own. He always had something to say, something more to learn, and something more to give.

Dad adored his grandchildren and invested in them deeply. He was excited about each of their passions and never ran out of ways to spark meaningful conversation with each of them. One recent conversation was started by asking one of our 16-year-olds, “Have you been following the Sam Bankman-Fried trial?” which, while on-brand for Dad, was somehow both bewilderingly unexpected and hilarious. He would be so intrigued today to know the outcome of the jury’s deliberation - guilty on all counts. As Dad grew older and more gentle (eventually entering his sweater phase), he showed his deep love for each of our children by adhering to the essential Grandfather rule - feed the children what they want, despite all feeble and unenthusiastic protests from their parents. That most recently included creamsicle milkshakes, licorice, and Werther’s Caramels. Fortunately for Del, their beloved dog, he applied the same rule to her. He was essentially their dealer and we all loved this about him.

Our family lives in an entirely authentic state so it was a well received conversation when I asked him how he wanted to be remembered. He responded, fairly instantly, that he wants people to remember that he was a good person who cared about other people and acted with integrity. This was the guidance he lovingly meted out for all of his children. Fully consistent with what we already know about him and his savage sense of self-deprecating humor, he would simply call himself an Equal Opportunity Asshole. In one of our last conversations with him the weekend before we lost him, when we knew what was happening but didn’t know how soon it would come, he lovingly opened the floor by asking me what questions I had left for him. At that moment, none of the other residual questions mattered. I only needed him to verify what he’d told me all along: He loved me, he’s loved me all this time, and he knew that I loved and cherished him. Our final months with Dad were filled with fear, so much fear, and boundless gratitude - for the gift of time we’ve already had, and the knowing that we had time to repair what had, at times, been left splintered and fractured over the course of many complicated and unpredictable life trajectories. In the first few weeks after his diagnosis, we lovingly exchanged apologies tumbled over hugs tumbled over more apologies. In those precious tender days before we lost him, the four of us and Pam had the most precious gift of all - the chance to say our final, gentle, loving goodbyes, to hold him in our arms, and kiss him.

Our Dad struggled to speak in his final hours, but he, miraculously, was able to conjure the vitality and emotional momentum to say final words to his precious, weeping grandchildren - “Goodnight, Honey. I love you.”

Dad, to you we say, with all our hearts, “Goodnight, Honey. We love you.”
Our precious Dad passed at 2:10 am on November 2, 2023.

His legacy lives on in his grandchildren; Sophie Shore, Madeline Gaines, Zoey Gaines, Oliver Gaines, Amelia Gaines, Kash Gaines, Duncan Smith and Griffin Smith.