By Chuck Walker
MOBILE, Ala. – The novelist James Lane Allen is attributed with saying, "Adversity does not build character; it reveals it." The famous evangelist Billy Graham once said before his own death, "Some day our journey through this life will be over, and we will embark on another journey-one that will last forever."
One person who lived her life and proved both adages is Tina Gatewood, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Mobile District customer service representative in charge of payroll.
Gatewood, who was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer in May 2021, died surrounded by family members and loved ones on Friday, November 3, 2023.
Since her diagnosis and before her death, Gatewood continued ensuring the District and its employees were paid on time.
In a Facebook post posted to Gatewood's page was a note from her daughter commemorating her passing.
"This morning, my Mom, my best friend, and most importantly, the strongest woman I've ever known got to meet Jesus," said Emily Gatewood-Joy. "Cancer did not win; Jesus did. Heaven received a new beautiful soul, and I received a new guardian angel. No more pain, only peace. I love you Mom, until we meet again."
A USACE employee since 2016, Gatewood had undergone several surgeries and was receiving bi-weekly chemotherapy treatment. At the time, Gatewood said she decided to keep working because she couldn't see herself doing anything else. At the same time, it kept her mind off her troubles.
"I have a true love for the Army Corps of Engineers and everything that this District represents," Gatewood said before her death. "I can't imagine not working. My co-workers and friends at the Corps have always been so warm and loving throughout the entire process. It is the relationships with them that I truly cherish every day. While it has been tough to balance work/life/illness, I know that I have the full support of my superiors. Having my position's responsibilities keeps me focused and takes my mind off what will or might happen. I take every day as a challenge and look forward to what work brings."
One person who witnessed and saw Gatewood's determination and fights throughout her journey was Lita Trotter, Mobile District supervisory accountant and Gatewood's supervisor.
Trotter said that Gatewood was a caring person who fought valiantly through her illness.
"Tina Gatewood has more fight than anyone I have ever known," Trotter said. "Even going through what she was facing, she was concerned about how I was doing and worrying about being unable to work. As a friend, she was a very big-hearted person. She was such a spunky and positive person. She was very dedicated and loved her job. She cared about her customers and ensured that any time or payroll issue was resolved promptly. She will be dearly missed."
In honor of her dedication to her job and her service to the Corps, Gatewood received the Steel de Fleury Medal at the District Ball in May from USACE South Atlantic Division Commander Brigadier Gen. Daniel Hibner.
The de Fleury Medal is named after French engineer Francois Louis Tesseidre de Fleury and is among the highest honors you can receive in the Corps.
Kristina Mullins, Mobile District Chief of Staff, said what she gave to the District and Corps will not be forgotten.
"Tina's contributions over her relatively short time with the Mobile District were huge," Mullins said. "When someone called her, it wasn't because everything was good. She was the fixer when it came to payroll issues. And her heart and passion for resolving problems made her good at her job. She was patient and kind with people and always had a bright smile for everyone. She will be missed."
Brian Ivey, Mobile District Chief of Resource Management, said Gatewood had no regard for her illness and well-being when it came to serving others.
"Tina took care of her job, and she took care of her kids regardless of how sick she was or how bad she felt," Ivey said. "External circumstances did not compromise her sense of duty to those in her life. Her devotion to loving the people around her superseded all else."
Gatewood leaves behind three children: sons Austin and Dylan, her daughter Emily, and her granddaughter Caroline.
Before her death, Gatewood left these words of encouragement for anyone facing a battle in life.
"Never, never, never give up," Gatewood said. "There is a special place for all of us in life. There is a reason that we are here. That smile on your face or that next encouraging word can make a difference in someone's life. It is truly the little things in life that push us through, and I would encourage anyone in my position to hold onto faith and know that God will see you through."