By Denise Dunbar | [email protected]
Matthew Ian Gillette, a pillar of Alexandria’s Del Ray community who was known for his work with Casa Chirilagua and the National Community Church, died suddenly of a heart-related issue at his home on Oct. 19. He was 39.
Gillette’s many ministries in Alexandria stemmed from his abiding Christian faith. His LinkedIn self-description reads, “Hello! My name is Matthew Gillette. I am a 30 something follower of Jesus. I love my wife, our neighbors, and our city. … My beautiful wife Abby and I live in Alexandria, VA. Where I am a neighbor, friend, missionary, ordained minister, social activist, community curator, and hopeful social entrepreneur.”
Gillette was founder and executive director of Restore Alexandria, a faith-based nonprofit working to build better neighborhoods; a community connector; and an ordained minister who had served as director of small groups and missions for National Community Church. His volunteer work included Casa Chirilagua, Hunger Free Alexandria, the board of the Del Ray Business Association, president of the Cora Kelly PTA, co-founder of Arlandria Eggstravaganza and chair of the Alexandria Multicultural Festival.
Gillette’s life of service to others touched a wide range of people in Alexandria, from immigrants in Arlandria to powerful elected officials. All who commented on Gillette’s passing stressed the depth and breadth of his involvement in Del Ray and Arlandria, and of the enormous void that his passing leaves.
“Matthew joined the [Cora Kelly PTA] a few years back, providing valuable leadership and guidance that helped save it from disappearing altogether and helping shape it into the thriving PTA it is today. He got involved despite not having any children at Cora Kelly. He simply saw a need in his community and jumped in to help,” a statement posted to the Cora Kelly PTA Facebook page read.
“I was fortunate to see and talk to Matt almost daily while he walked our neighborhood. We talked about everything, but most importantly the love we shared for Jesus Christ and helping the underserved in our community,” School Board member Jacinta Greene posted on Facebook. “There are very few people on this Earth like Matt – humble, kind, God-fearing, community focused, action oriented with a heart for service.”
Gayle Reuter, who served for several years on the Del Ray Business Association board with Gillette, remembered the quiet example Gillette set.
“He lived what he believed as far as his faith, helping others, being kind. In this day and age, everywhere you look on all sides, people are looking for the negative, or the bad in something, and there was Matthew, out there preaching the good. And doing it so quietly. … Even in his passing, he’s having an important and critical effect on people’s lives,” Reuter said.
Friends said that through those many involvements, Gillette’s greatest gift was that of simply being present for others.
“Matt, I can honestly say without exaggeration that I’ve never met anyone as kind, caring and selfless as you. You influenced me more than you know. I remember the first time you showed up at FPF and you cleaned the fridge, and that memory alone sums up so much of who I knew you to be,” Jenny Lynn Hislop wrote on Gillette’s Facebook page.
“This was one of the rare, beautiful people. This was one of those I have searched the planet for. This is one of those few humans I wanted to learn from – to follow – to somehow have some of the goodness rub off on me,” Paul Sparks of Parish Collective said on Facebook. “… He was a neighborhood character – a rare jewel who loved without agenda. I think Matthew made it his highest intention to love those who were different from him. He was a neighborhood pastor and connector in the truest sense of the word.”
“That was an important part of his ministry, simply being in and part of the community,” Reuter said.
Matthew Ian Gillette was born on June 20, 1982, and grew up in Manassas, Virginia. He attended Longwood University.
Gillette is survived by his wife of 14 years, Abby, and daughter Elizabeth, known as “baby E.” He is also survived by his mother, Diane Gillette; sister Cheryl (Micheal Thompson) of Manassas, Virginia; brother Brian (Christine Gillette); and five nieces and nephews: Ashley Thompson, Abigail Gillette, Samantha Gillette, Austin Thompson and Robert Gillette. He was predeceased by his father, Rodney Gillette.
A viewing will be held today from noon to 2:30 p.m. at Cunningham Turch Funeral Home at 811 Cameron St. A celebration of Gillette’s life will be held on Nov. 6 at 3 p.m. at First Baptist Church of Alexandria at 2932 King St. Both events are open to family and friends.