Posted by: marthabernie | December 22, 2017

Cousin Judy and the Napa, California Fire

I have posted previously about my cousin, Judith Carol Brammell Atchley Gee.  She was the only child of my mother’s sister, Marguerite Shank Brammell Truitt.  We were ten years apart in age and while we saw each other when I was a child, it was not until I was in my early 30s that we became very close.  I had never had a sister and neither had she, so the bond was strong.   She had a happy, infectious personality and always looked on the bright side of things.   She lived with her family on  Spring Mountain Road in St. Helena, California, which is on the northwest side of the Napa Valley.  A few years after divorcing, she married Tim Gee, and they were fortunate enough to buy a house on Atlas Peak Road which overlooked the Silverado Country Club, halfway up the mountain,  in the town of Napa.  When they first moved in (mid-80s), on a clear day you could see all the way across Petaluma and Marin County to San Francisco.  As air quality grew worse, the view to SF was somewhat obscured, but the views were still spectacular.  You could often watch the hot air balloons as they left the south end of the valley and floated north.  It was also a great place to see comets and meteor showers, and the deer population loved the property.  The pregnant does would come give birth under Tim and Judy’s deck in the spring and then later in the summer, bring the babies back to visit.  One summer we watched as 18 does and fawns grouped around the back of the property, with one young stag leading the group.  It was a lovely place to go and visit, and I was always envious of being able to live in such a wonderful, peaceful spot.

Judy was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis in 2000, after several months of doctors and things being ruled out.  She was given about two years to live, but she determined she was not going to go that soon.  So as time marched on, we all got lulled into thinking she could beat the disease and that she would go on forever.  However, in November, 2005, after battling the disease for more than five years, she succumbed and we were all numb with disbelief and grief.  They had just sold their business and retired, and we all thought she had a lot more time ahead of her.  Tim stayed on in the lovely house on the lovely site above the south end of the valley until October this year when one night, after checking things out on the deck, he put his pajamas on and was getting ready to go to bed when he decided to have one more look at the view from the deck.  What he saw was a wall of flames heading straight for the house.  There was no time to do anything but change clothes and get in the car.  Tim and his friend, Kay, had a hard time getting down the mountain with smoke blocking the view and flames on either side of the road.  However, they did escape; unfortunately, the house burned to the ground.  Every single thing, every single photograph destroyed.

I came across these photos of Judy in an odd place today.  Don’t know why they were grouped together and stuck into an envelope in my bedroom dresser.  But there they were.  I keep a framed photo of Judy on one dresser, another photo of Tim and Judy on the larger dresser.  So not at all sure why these were stuck in the drawer.  But I decided to post them today because I have been thinking about her, and now that I have them scanned and backed up, I will send the hard copies on to Tim.  He decided to leave California; bought a house in St. George, Utah.  And when he told me that not even one photograph had survived, I told him I would send him whatever I come across of him, Judy and the house.  It will be a labor of love.  I was very near the Creek fire that hit So Cal two weeks ago; I was packed and ready to leave, under threat of possible evacuation for three days.  But I had time to load the car and take the things that are completely irreplaceable.  I cannot imagine what it would be like to lose EVERYTHING.

Photo top left is Judy, about age 3 in 1942 with her mother, my Aunt Marge.  To the right, Judy standing on their deck overlooking the Napa Valley to the south.  Bottom left, Tim and Judy on the same spot, July, 1987.  Then about ten years later at their house.   I still miss her so much.




  1. I knew Tim and Judy Gee. I recall when they bought the house on the hill near Silverado. Thanks for this post. I had not seen or heard from Tim in quite some time and no longer live in the No. CA area. Good to know that Tim survived the fire, sorry the house did not survive. It was a lovely home. If I am in or near the Utah town named, I will try to get in touch with Tim.


    • I talked to Tim about a week ago and he turns 81 on the 23rd of this month. He and Kay have settled into their new home and he likes it…says it’s different from CA and Napa, of course, but he likes it and the winter was mild. He doesn’t text or email (he has them but never responds according to his daughter), so if you want to contact him, contact me privately at and I can give you his phone number.


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