Ways of Life: Alcohol took Mason Gash. ‘Nothing to hide here now.’
Also remembered: A homebuilder in South Charlotte; a longtime pastor at First Methodist; a CEO of Smart Start and a leader in early childhood education
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Mason Gash was an Eagle Scout with a strong character who succumbed to alcoholism. His parents tell his story to honor him and to help us learn from what happened.
Mason Gash, center, poses with his parents, Cindy and Ed Gash. Mason’s body was found by police in his SouthPark apartment in April of 2020. Family and friends held a memorial service for Mason earlier this month. (Photo courtesy of the family)
By Ken Garfield
Charlotte’s Ed and Cindy Gash don’t believe their son, Mason, was trying to end his life when he drank himself to death at age 33. They believe he was trying to dull the pain brought on by the struggle between his inner voice and the expectations of the world he lived in — expectations that for many people Mason’s age include copious amounts of alcohol. When police found Mason’s body in his apartment in the SouthPark area, they also found a new set of swim goggles, as if he was planning to get back in the pool. Mason once captained the swim team at South Mecklenburg High School.
They also found empty vodka bottles. That was April 2, 2020. As Cindy said, “We’ve had plenty of time to think about this.”
In these two-plus years, the Gashes have talked to Mason’s friends and revisited everything that they as parents did or did not do. They search, knowing that the answer to exactly “Why?” remains out of reach.
Ed, 70, who had his own leadership and coaching business, is starting a grief counseling ministry for men. Society, he said, doesn’t give men the room to grieve. He wants people to understand that alcoholism is a disease and a form of mental illness and should be treated as such. Cindy, 70, a retired CMS elementary school teacher, has compiled files filled with all things Mason, including condolences. Lisa Shanklin, Mason’s youth minister when he was in middle school, wrote, “I loved him for being so thoughtful and profound. He wasn’t just a surface person.”
Unable to gather due to Covid, family and friends came together for a memorial service June 11 at Holy Comforter Episcopal Church in Charlotte. The Rev. Greg Brown asked worshipers to raise their hand if they had a special memory of Mason. As dozens of hands went up, Brown encouraged mourners to share those memories with the Gashes. “In that way,” he said, “Mason is alive and well.” The Gashes agree that having the service after so much time has passed made it easier to celebrate his life rather than dwell on his death. Still, as they are learning, there is no such thing as fully healing.
This is why Mason’s parents are reliving their journey here: To honor their only child. To invite us to learn from what happened. To help others. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, excessive alcohol is responsible for 140,000 deaths each year in the United States.
The Gashes are certain Mason would want them to be honest in telling his story. As Cindy said, there is no reason not to bare their souls. “There’s nothing to hide here now.”
‘A man of strict morals’
How good a kid was Mason Gash?
The Gashes were delighted when his kindergarten teacher called to say that Mason had climbed onto a desk so he could turn the lights off and on. “She was pleased to see him step out of his shy box,” Cindy said, smiling at the memory.
Mason grew up at Beverly Woods East Swim Club. Big and strong, he was the go-to guy when kids wanted to be tossed into the deep end. He was an acolyte at Holy Comforter on Park Road, donning robes to help lead the Sunday morning processional. He earned the Boy Scout rank of Eagle Scout. Ed Gash said he felt closest to Mason during his son’s scouting years. Mason was buried with his acolyte cross and Eagle Scout and God & Country pins.
Mason attended Elizabeth Traditional, Carmel Middle School and South Meck High, where he played lacrosse, swam competitively and worked on the yearbook staff. Once during high school, his mom asked him why he wasn’t going to a party she had heard about. It was his strong character talking when he told her, “Mom, you should be glad I’m not going to that party.”
He attended University of South Carolina. That’s where the din of college life began to drown out Mason’s inner voice. The Gashes don’t blame USC. It could have been most any school. The Gashes believe the drinking issues started in his freshman year. Mason’s best friend, Stephen King, recalled visiting Mason and seeing a mountain of empty beer cans on the balcony of his dorm room. “Mason was a man of strict morals,” Stephen, 35, said. But college life began to take its toll.
The Gashes recalled driving to Columbia, S.C., one Sunday to take Mason to lunch. He looked ashen, Cindy said, and barely touched his chicken alfredo. If you’re the parent of a child this age, you know that it’s not easy getting to the bottom of anything. Mason graduated in 2009 with a degree in Sport and Entertainment Management and moved back to Charlotte. After a short stint at home, he shared a rental house in the Madison Park neighborhood with Stephen and two other friends and started work as a loan officer. Four college grads loose in the big city.
“We finally got a few dollars in our pockets and wanted to have a good time,” Stephen said, recalling the beer and bourbon. But it grew to the point, he said, that Mason had to drink himself to sleep. As Mason advanced into his late 20s, the temptation grew more pronounced. Now he was going to friends’ weddings, where the fancier alcohol flowed. Mason the person didn’t change. But his inner voice couldn’t compete.
The Gashes agree, 2017 was a turning point.
That was the year Mason lost a grandmother and a favorite uncle. His mom went through a second bout with breast cancer. He lost two relationships. “The trifecta of tragedy,” Ed said.
Knowing he was in trouble, Mason entered an outpatient alcohol treatment center in Charlotte, completing the program in April 2018. He started going to AA. When his physician told him he was an alcoholic, he put up no resistance. “Yes sir,” he answered.
His parents did not know he had relapsed until they found his body on April 2, 2020. They hadn’t heard from him for a couple of days. Neither had his friends. It was the police who opened the door to Mason’s apartment and went inside. The cause of death was pancreatitis. The cause of the pancreatitis, his parents agree, was a sadness in his heart and soul brought on by several factors, including the loss of those two relationships.
“He couldn’t figure a way out of it,” Cindy said.
‘He couldn’t do it alone’
Mason Gash was a pleaser. He was kind. He was a peacemaker. He loathed conflict and wanted everyone to find common ground. He didn’t judge people. His family and faith meant everything to him. So did his character. And yet …
And yet life is complicated. Loved ones die. Relationships shatter. Alcohol to many is seen as an escape. The disease of alcoholism is insidious. Even the strongest among us can’t bear the load alone.
That’s the lesson here.
Stephen King can still see his best friend tossing kids around the Beverly Woods East pool, long before the world closed in on Mason.
“He couldn’t do it alone and he tried to do it alone,” Stephen said. “He didn’t want to burden anyone else.”
Ed Gash invites anyone grieving a loss to contact him: email@example.com.
Ken Garfield is a freelance writer/editor who specializes in obituaries. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other obituaries this week:
Deborah Jean Van Sciver Allen, 72, of Swannanoa spent many years as a member of Dilworth Methodist Church in Charlotte. She loved beautiful music and shared her talent generously as an oboist, a pianist and as a member of her church’s choir and handbell choir. She graduated from Myers Park High School.
James Robert Ausman, 85, of Charlotte worked for Carotek Inc. in Charlotte before founding his own companies, HPE Inc. and Hydrocorp Inc. He retired in 2005. Always active in church activities, he served as one of the coordinators for Perpetual Adoration at St. Gabriel Catholic Church. Jim enjoyed spending time in the N.C. mountains, fishing on fresh water lakes and spending time at his beach condo in North Myrtle Beach. Jim was quick with a joke, loved playing the piano and was excellent at playing his favorite games, such as crossword puzzles and Sudoku.
William “Bill” Francis Barry, 51, of Charlotte moved to Charlotte in 1996 as an ADP sales representative and recently started a new career at Lumen Technology. In 1996, he became involved in Charlotte Sports and Social, where many good friendships developed that lasted over 25 years. A passion of his was sports, especially football — it started with the Panthers and more recently the Gamecocks. Golfing was a big part of who he was.
Stanley Ridgeway Elrod, Jr., 82, of Charlotte was a longtime home builder and was instrumental in the development of neighborhoods throughout South Charlotte, including Morrocroft, Quail Hollow and Fox Lake. He had a long association with the YMCA of Greater Charlotte. He was an avid pilot and an adventurous world traveler. He attended Myers Park High School and served six years in the Air National Guard.
Julian “Davis” Godwin Jr., 79, of Little Switzerland began work with J.G. Blackmon Associates and later established Davis Godwin Associates Inc., serving the Charlotte area as manufacturers representative for computer room specialty equipment. He was a devoted member of Ascension Lutheran Church, where he served as a lay minister and assistant church director. Serving as chairman of Ascension’s celebration of 60 years of ministry in September 1991 was a highlight for him. Davis served four years in the U.S. Air Force.
Rev. Elliott Wannamaker Hardin Jr., 81, of Asheville served as a pastor in the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church for 36 years, including First Methodist in Charlotte. Wannie had a passion for golf and played as often as possible, numbering two holes in one among his accomplishments. He took great pleasure in books and ideas, continuing to study and teach long into retirement. He was an enthusiastic traveler and traveled to China in the 1980s with a group from Duke Divinity School and later led trips to Israel, Jordan and Egypt. He also enjoyed hiking trips in England and Switzerland.
Leroy “Dick” Richard Katz Jr, 97, of Charlotte was employed by Myers and Chapman in Charlotte for 25 years as an estimator, construction manager and vice president. He was a member of Catawba Yacht Club. His hobbies were sailing, boat building and model airplane design. He graduated from Sharon High School in 1942. Dick entered the Army Air Force in 1943 and served as crew chief in a fighter squadron.
Robert “Bob” Little, 82, of Fort Mill, S.C., moved to Charlotte to start his business and often said that moving to Charlotte was one of the best decisions he ever made. He attended the Church at Charlotte (New City Church) and was elected chairman of the elder board and later was the associate pastor. He retired from the church in 2004 and then worked for seven years as executive director of Hope Cancer Ministries. He served in active duty with the Air Force from 1960 to 1964.
Deanna Martin Long, 78 of Charlotte was a member of Cokesbury United Methodist Church for 44 years. She served as president and teacher of Saints and Sinners Sunday school class, chairman of trustees and finance, secretary on the administration board and co-chair of the lunch bunch (Food Ministry Outreach). She was secretary of Eastern Star Chapter Mizpah No. 36 (Charlotte). She graduated from Queens College. Deanna had a zest for life and a passion for cooking. She loved to entertain.
Robert (Bob) Barber Mackey, 89, of Lancaster, S.C., began his career in the residential building industry and finished his career as the co-owner of a kitchen cabinet dealership in Charlotte. Bob was always accumulating and trading cars and motorcycles and was loved by car and motorcycle dealers across the Carolinas. Bob served in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War and earned a Letter of Commendation.
Jane Hughes Wooline Meyer, 71, of Charlotte earned her degree from Queens College in 1972. She ran Meyer Music with her husband until 1992 when she became the director of Dilworth Child Development Center. She then earned her master’s degree in early childhood administration. In 2002, Jane became executive director of Smart Start of Mecklenburg County. Jane worked tirelessly to advance the lives of children from birth to 5 years old in Mecklenburg County. She was an advocate and a leader in early education.
William (Bill) A. Milligan, 81, of Charlotte settled here and bought his own warehousing and distribution company, Carolina Transfer & Storage Inc., in 1979. After retiring in 2000, Bill served for seven years as executive director of the Southeastern Warehousing Association. He enjoyed his 36 years with Charlotte West Rotary as a board member, president, Paul Harris Fellow, and Flight of Honor Guardian. Bill took on leadership roles at his church and coached kids from 6 to 16 in the sports he loved. He enjoyed traveling and developed a love of whitewater rafting in his late 50s. He served in the U.S. Air Force and earned the Bronze Star.
Charles David Moore, 94, of Charlotte was a member of Clear Creek Baptist Church in Charlotte. David worked in sales most of his life. He served in Okinawa at the end of World War II with the U.S. Army and was honorably discharged as a sergeant. He was always quick with a joke or a story. After he retired, he enjoyed fishing, playing cards, popping popcorn and working in his yard.
Robert Steven Parker, 69, of Surfside Beach, S.C., was a piano tuner for over 35 years, tuning world traveling pianos for concerts and shows. He was the piano tuner for the Charlotte Symphony. He spent over 10 years tuning pianos at Queens University and Central Piedmont Community College as well as more than 30 years at UNC Charlotte. Bob had the honor of performing and playing the piano at Carnegie Hall. He wrote music for the Discovery Place, as well as a musical jingle for Food Lion. Bob began playing the accordion at age 7 while also teaching himself how to play the piano. He had a natural ear for music, hearing a tune only once before he could play it.
Priscilla (Hasbin) Croxton Rucks, 77, of Kannapolis was a member of St. Paul Baptist Church in Charlotte. Priscilla served in the bereavement ministry and even more so in service to youth through the New Disciples Ministry where she provided teaching, inspiration and built lasting connections. She could find humor in every situation and her laugh was contagious.
Theodore Howard Shonts Jr., 91, of Charlotte had a passion for the fine arts and was active in Theatre Charlotte where he performed in many plays and musicals. He served in Stephen’s Ministry and was a clown minister at both Christ Episcopal Church and St. John’s Episcopal Church, both of Charlotte. He was a volunteer for Visit Charlotte and worked there every Monday. One of his proudest accomplishments was being named Mediator of the Year for 2002 for the Charlotte Dispute Settlement Program. He worked briefly for Duke Power, but in 1960, began his career with the U.S. Postal Service, where he worked until retirement in 1988. He served in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War.
Phyllis Harriet (Reid) Van Brug, 93, of Charlotte sang for over 40 years in groups like Oratorio Singers of Charlotte. As a little girl, she began her lifelong love of singing by winning a contest and performing on the radio. She was an outstanding tennis player and developed an amazing green thumb. She took several trips to Europe.
Ways of Life condensed obituaries are compiled by Darrell Horwitz, a Charlotte-based freelance writer who writes about sports, local news and restaurants. Reach him at email@example.com
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Ways of Life editor: Craig Paddock