July 29, 1989 to July 1, 2021
Michael was the first son of Barb Gazeley and Kent Romney, joined by brother Patrick in November 1991. Michael died mid-day Thursday, July 1, 2021 in a motorcycle accident.
Michael had an essential sweetness and was protective of Patrick. The brothers plotted adventures at Neskowin with cousins and friends, building sand castles, jumping in the waves and catching crabs. Michael enjoyed skiing, particularly during Christmas vacations with the Hammer family in Jackson, Wyo. He felt most peaceful in nature and cherished time with family while fishing and spotting bald eagles on Papa Gazeley’s boat in Desolation Sound, B.C., and backpacking in Utah.
Michael went to Hayhurst and Robert Gray schools and graduated from Catlin Gabel in 2008. He attended Claremont McKenna College for two years, and then periodically took courses at Portland State University, studying political science, economics, and environmental science and policy. Michael ran track and cross-country and especially liked soccer. He played on teams from childhood, serving as co-captain of the Catlin Gabel varsity soccer team. He loved Mock Trial, competed on Catlin’s team all four years and was co-captain his senior year, and considered becoming a lawyer.
Michael was drawn to the bagpipes and started lessons at age 10. From 12 to 18, he played with the Sir James McDonald Pipe Band. He was thrilled to be asked on his first official “gig” with the band, a post-9/11 trip to New York City to participate in a memorial parade of 10,000 bagpipers. Michael delighted in summer road trips to highland games, and served as co-Pipe Major during his senior year. Adventures in Glasgow, Scotland with the pipe band while competing in the World Pipe Band Championships in 2004 and 2006 were among the highlights of his life.
Michael had an exceptionally quick mind and enjoyed thinking in novel ways. His philosophy professor at Claremont commented that Michael’s mastery of the reading and insightful comments put him at the top of a class of very bright students. His middle school Spanish teacher who led the Europe trip he loved recalled, “My memories of Michael are always full of love, light, and laughter. He was such a gifted kid and was more than just a student to me. I remember his smiles and his laughter, his competitive spirit during classroom games and his attention to detail in his work. He was always a quiet but firm leader, and often was the one who intervened to help a classmate when things got difficult.” A friend’s mother recently recalled Michael’s high school backpacking trip with three friends on a section of the Pacific Crest Trail. Michael was the master organizer, distributing supply lists and assigning tasks for each day in a way that seemed capable beyond his years. A wicked sense of humor perfectly balanced Michael’s sweet spirit.
During college, Michael began to show signs of the bipolar disorder that came to dominate his experience. His many wild adventures during manic and psychotic episodes and periods of depression were blessedly interspersed with passages when Michael was very much himself. He continued to enjoy taking college courses at PSU and working at Zupan’s, OnPoint, Pastini, the Forest Service in John Day, the Ringside, and in construction. He had just applied for jobs with the Forest Service and at a Portland sushi restaurant at the time he died.
Michael sometimes used alcohol, marijuana and other drugs to help with the sleep problems and social anxiety he encountered due to his bipolar disorder. At other times, he attended AA meetings at the NW Portland Alano Club, where he was proud to discover a photograph honoring his great-grandfather Harry Marcus Gazeley, an early member.
Since 2018, Michael has been in the wise and loving care of his psychiatrist, Dr. Elizabeth Birecree. After years of struggling to find the right bipolar medications, Michael began to improve as Dr. Birecree quickly identified what worked best for him. At the time he died, Michael was clear and happy, trending in a good direction with a recent change of medication.
Michael loved his weird and beautiful city, Portland. Summer was his favorite season, when Michael spent sunny days at Sauvie’s Island and the Willamette River. All year around, Michael could be found hiking on the Wildwood and other trails in Forest Park, and walking and biking around town, especially in his beloved NW Portland neighborhood. He relished the occasional Portland World Naked Bike Ride and Bridge Pedal.
Despite being encouraged to give it up for safety, Michael loved riding his motorcycle. It gave him a sense of freedom and light-hearted joy that the rest of his life has lacked in recent years. Michael died in a motorcycle accident on the afternoon of Thursday, July 1, 2021. He was much loved and will be missed by many.
We expected to be proud of Michael’s success in traditional ways. Instead, he challenged us to stretch our hearts and minds, learn about mental illness and addiction and develop compassion instead of passing judgment. This may be one of his greatest gifts to us.
Michael was the first of six grandchildren of Patty and Bill Gazeley and the ninth of 21 grandchildren of Marge and George Romney. His parents divorced in 1993 and added step-parents Stacey Romney, David Abbott, Tim Evans and Mari Kynsi and brother Harrison Romney. Michael grew up close to Portland cousins Katherine and Jack Van Allen and Andrew and Lizzy Gazeley and their parents, Carolyn Gazeley and Brad Van Allen and Mark and Martha Gazeley, as well as Aunt Katie and Uncle Allan Twombly, and kept in touch with Romney and Puzey family members across the Western U.S.
Michael’s memorial will be held July 29, 2021, in the Hoyt Arboretum. Capacity is limited, so please contact Barb if you’d like to attend. You might want to remember Michael by donating to groups aiding the homeless and those affected by mental illness and addiction, or to your favorite bagpipe band.