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The Press Democrat remembers the 40 lives lost in the North Bay fires. Click here for more of the stories.

Carmen McReynolds, a retired physician who specialized in internal medicine, lived a life of unwavering independence, according to her relatives and friends. Outside of work, she loved to read, play music, shoot rifles and, up until about a decade ago, ride motorcycles.

As a Kaiser Permanente physician working in the East Bay for 25 years, McReynolds cared for others with respect and compassion, said friends and those who came to know her through her philanthropy.

“I think she profoundly helped people in her professional career,” said Dan Needham, CEO of the Earle Baum Center in Santa Rosa. “I know she helped us profoundly improve lives of people with sight loss.”

McReynolds, 82, died inside her 1973 Mercedes, which remained parked inside the garage of her Fountaingrove home, said her nephew, Gabriel Coke of San Jose. She was apparently unable to open her garage door after the firestorm knocked out power in her neighborhood, Coke said.

Coke, an artist and atelier director at the New Museum Los Gatos, said his aunt was an intellectual who carried herself with dignity and had a deep appreciation for the arts.

“I always just knew I was around a very intelligent person,” he said. “She just always took conversation very seriously.”

Allan Brenner, the retired CEO of the Earle Baum Center, said Needham was “cultured and intelligent” but also understated.

“She didn’t boast about herself,” he said. “She was quite confident and yet very engaging. ... She was just absolutely a lovely, lovely woman.”

McReynolds grew up in Durango, Colorado, where her father, Joseph Golden McKinnley, was the town doctor. He was a tremendous influence in her life and she often talked about her father, and his emphasis on patient care over material success, Brenner said. “It wasn’t about money, but just being the best doctor,” Brenner said.

McReynolds received her medical degree from University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine, where she met Max McReynolds, another medical student. The two graduated in the early 1960s and later married.

At that time, she was planning to become an anesthesiologist, working part time so she could raise a family, Coke said. But after she and her husband split, she dedicated herself to her work as an internist and became content being single, Coke said.

Around 1980, a case of tuberculosis forced McReynolds to take a hiatus from work. An old college roommate and friend, Nadine Caligaris, cared for McReynolds while she was sick. From then on the two friends essentially became “roommates for the rest of their lives,” Coke said.

When McReynolds retired in 1995, she bought her Kilarney Circle home in Fountaingrove with Caligaris, who died of cardiac arrest about 10 years ago, Coke said.

McReynolds also had a cabin in the Russian River area, but her visits became more infrequent as she grew older. Still, she continued to do the things she loved, reading poetry and playing music, her nephew said. A month before her death, she wrote a letter to Needham, including a transcription of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem, “Crossing the Bar.”

The poem’s message Needham said: “If you have done well in the world and been kind and helped people, you are safe in crossing the bar.”

As per her wishes, her ashes were spread in November along the Sonoma Coast.

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