Gayle Tucker, one of the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s best-known female television personalities, and a pastor, author, and counselor credited with lighting a fire under thousands of marriages, died less than a month after learning that she had pancreatic cancer. She was 60.
Tucker, associate speaker of the Faith For Today television ministry and co-host of its popular flagship “Lifestyle Magazine” program, died on Sunday, April 10, at her home in Dallas, Texas.
“I'm sorry to announce that Gayle Tucker passed away late this afternoon,” Mike Tucker, her husband of 40 years and the speaker and director of Faith For Today, wrote Sunday night on Facebook. “She was surrounded by family and died peacefully.”
Tucker turned to social media to chronicle his wife’s brief struggle with cancer and to underscore that their faith would remain strong no matter what happened.
He announced the discovery of the cancer on March 19.
“Two weeks ago Gayle began having strokes. She had zero stroke risk factors and yet she had strokes,” he wrote in the Facebook post. “It took almost a week and a half of MRI’s, CT scans and more before they figured it out. Gayle has pancreatic cancer that has spread to her liver. This cancer can cause strokes.
“While medicine has no cure for this condition, we know the Master Physician and trust Him,” he said. “We will accept His will whatever it may be.”
About a week later, Tucker said in a follow-up post that his wife was resting better and had gained some physical strength.
“Gayle's faith is strong, her courage high, and her hope secure,” he said.
Several times he thanked well-wishers for their overwhelming support through prayer, cards, letters, Facebook messages, and e-mails.
“We love you all so much!” he wrote on March 29. “Gayle weeps with every new story or testimony of love for her. In fact, we can't share all of them with her since it causes her to weep, her love for you is so great.”
Daniel R. Jackson, president of the Adventist Church in North America and a friend of the Tuckers for the past decade, paid tribute to Gayle Tucker on Monday for having a tremendous impact on married couples and for modeling a remarkable commitment to ministry.
“Gayle was loyal to God, to Mike, to her family, and to the church, in that order,” Jackson said in an e-mailed statement. “She was a gracious, mature Christian who was passionate to let people know that the gospel of Jesus could and should be played out in everyday life and in everyday relationships.”
He and others noted that Gayle Tucker had a warm personality that sparked immediate friendships.
“My most memorable moment with Gayle was the first time I met with her and Mike,” he said. “There was an almost instant connection with her and Mike that lasted until this day.”
He was echoed by Elaine Oliver, co-director of the Adventist world church’s Family Ministries department, who with her husband, Family Ministries co-director Willie Oliver, conducted marriage conferences with the Tuckers across North America from 2000 to 2010.
“The first time we presented together at our one-day marriage conference ‘From This Day Forward,’ I was battling nerves and stage fright,” Elaine Oliver said. “Gayle held my hands and prayed for me, reminding me that God was going to give me the strength and courage I needed. Her gentle strength was so comforting and reassuring.”
Gayle Ann Whitacre was born Aug. 26, 1955, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to Jack and Ethel Whitacre, the owners of a small glass business.
Gayle, the second oldest, attended Adventist schools through college, graduating in 1976 with an elementary education degree from Southwestern Adventist College (now Southwestern Adventist University) in Keene, Texas.
It was at Southwestern that she met Mike Tucker, and the two were married on Dec. 28, 1975 in Tulsa.
After teaching school for several years, Tucker joined her husband in full-time ministry at the 2,000-member Arlington Seventh-day Adventist Church in Arlington, Texas, where Mike Tucker served as senior pastor. She worked at the church as an associate pastor for 16 years, serving as the pastor of administration, music, and worship, with a special focus on children’s and women’s ministries. She was the first woman to become a credentialed commissioned minister in the Adventist Church’s Southwestern Union Conference, which includes Texas.
In 2004, Mike Tucker took the helm at Faith For Today, the oldest religious television broadcast in the world, and his wife joined him on the team. She later became co-host of “Lifestyle Magazine” in 2007 and associate speaker in 2009.
“I believe Gayle Tucker was the most recognized Adventist female television personality in our denomination,” Gordon Pifher, president of the North American Division’s Adventist Media Ministries and chair of the Faith For Today executive committee, said in a statement. “Gayle had millions of fans and followers as host and co-host of the award-winning ‘Lifestyle Magazine’ program.”
Faith For Today and “Lifestyle Magazine,” which airs on more than 150 television channels worldwide, will continue to broadcast, Pifher said.
“But Gayle will be greatly missed,” he said.
William Fagal, whose parents, William A. and Virginia Fagal, founded Faith For Today in 1950, recalled having several conversations with Gayle Tucker, including at the Faith For Today booth at the General Conference Session in San Antonio last July.
“Gayle was radiant, full of life, and passionate about God's work,” said Fagal, who retired as associate director of the Ellen G. White Estate last year. “Her loss leaves a large hole, not only in the lives of those who knew and loved her, but in the ranks of God's church.”
Tucker used her background in elementary education to make family relationships a key focus of her ministry. She and her husband co-created “Mad About Marriage,” a seminar project that includes a television series, marriage seminars, and small group curriculums; and co-authored the books Mad About Marriage, Mantras for Marriage, and Marriage Moments.
Willie Oliver said he would long remember listening to Gayle Tucker pray ahead of the marriage seminars that he and his wife presented with the Tuckers for 10 years. At the time, Willie and Elaine Oliver directed Family Ministries for the North American Division.
“My most memorable moment about Gayle was listening to her prayers on behalf of our own families and the couples we would be ministering to the following day,” Willie Oliver said. “Her words, tone of voice, and deep faith in God always moved me to greater trust in the mission God had given us to accomplish together on behalf of His children.”
Funeral services for Gayle Tucker will be held at 3 p.m. April 16 at the Arlington Seventh-day Adventist Church.
She is survived by her husband, Mike; two adult daughters, Allison Tucker and Michal Anne Whitcomb; son-in-law Levi Whitcomb; and two grandchildren. Preceded in death by her father, she is also survived by her mother, Ethel Whitacre; sisters Joni Darmody and Julie Little; brother Jackson Whitacre; adopted brother Jon Whitacre; and two nieces and seven nephews.
Family and friends described Gayle Tucker as a living example of a godly woman.
“There are a few women who stand out to me as virtuous women — as the embodiment of Christ. And without a doubt I saw that inner beauty in Gayle the first time I met her,” said Jennifer LaMountain, development director at Faith For Today, a singer, and a member of Tuckers’ extended family.
“She was a pastor at the time and I had come to provide a concert at her church,” she said. “What a relief it was to meet Gayle and realize she had already thought through every need, every situation, and had everything in hand. … Calmly, joyfully, and easily she navigated everything required for creating an environment of true worship.”
Steve Darmody, Tucker’s brother-in-law and a friend for more than 40 years, said the words of Micah 6:8 — “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God” — were a fitting description of his sister-in-law’s life.
“There are no better words to describe how Gayle Ann Whitacre Tucker actually lived her life,” said Darmody, a gospel recording artist and president of the Morning Song Music Group. “Gayle fulfilled this biblical mandate with body, heart, mind, and spirit.”
Elaine Oliver said another passage of the Bible came to mind when she thought about Gayle Tucker.
“She epitomized the woman in Proverbs 31. She was a strong woman of faith who adored her husband, doted on her children and grandchildren, and was a fierce protector of her family,” Oliver said. “I’m a better wife, mother, and ministry leader because of what I’ve learned from Gayle.”