In Memory

Karen Jolliffe (Gara)

Obituary for Karen Renee Jolliffe





If you ever want to know what service to others looks like, look no further than the life of Karen Renee Jolliffe who passed away peacefully in her sleep after a courageous bout with cancer on August 5, 2020 in San Francisco after a life of service to others.

Karen was born in Powell, Wy on January 6, 1950. She was the fourth of five children of Hattie Mae (Jolliffe) and Warren Jolliffe (both proceeding her in death). Karen's siblings and their families inlcude:  Marlys (Jolliffe) Daughtery,  Lane Jolliffe, Lyman Jolliffe (deceased), and Barbara Jolliffe Cunningham. She loved spending time with her eight nieces and nephews, 12 cousins and 9 aunts and uncles. 

Karen married her loving partner Phillip Justin Gara in San Francisco on June 21, 1986. Phil's family became her family. Phil's father, George Gara (deceased) and step mother Evelyn Gara, as well as his siblings Gale Margaret Mendes, Judy Elizabeth Sobieski (deceased) and George Geza Gara (deceased)  could not have welcomed Karen more as a member of the family and they were a rock for Karen during her wellness fight.

Karen was also blessed with long and lasting friendships that spanned the decades including Nancy Dolittle, Sacramento, CA, DiAnne Fentress-Rowe, Hillsboro, OR, Mary Kane, New York, Kathy Schiebold, San Francisco, Bobbie Moss, Bloomington as well as new friend Alexia Aschenbrenner, San Francisco.

Karen was a proud graduate of The Dalles High School in 1968. She attended many reunions and class gatherings and was the treasurer of the class reunion committee.  Immediately following high school Karen moved in with her sister Marlys and her family in San Mateo, CA while she completed her B.S.N. in Nursing from Cal State Sacramento.  Karen went to work at the University of California Medical Center following graduation and worked there for over 40 years in a variety of positions including as a nurse in pediatrics, neurology and neurosurgery. While working, Karen completed her M.S.N. in Nursing Administration from the University of California, San Francisco and became a hospital administrator eventually moving to the Electronic Records Management/IT department where she worked from 1995 to 2019 her last position was as a Clinical Analyst.  Karen was on the team which initially brought electronic records to USCF Medical Center and served in a variety of roles as each upgrade was rolled out. One of her colleagues, Andrew Maruoka wrote in his message to the hospital "...Karen worked in many capacities as a registered nurse, IT systems administrator, IT analyst and was a respected colleague who always remained focused on providing the best service and care for all patients who crossed through UCSF." Another colleague said, "I will always regard her as a UCSF gem and a true North compass for always doing the right thing".

Karen touched the lives of many, she focused her energy on social justice work, it was the driving force in her life.  Her generosity and kindness to people she knew and didn't know was incomparable.  Throughout her life she supported family members, the Congregational Church of San Mateo and a volunteered with a wide variety of organizations such as Homework Central in San Mateo where she was a Board Member, Vendone Homeless Shelter, Life Moves, Habitat for Humanity and Nickel Street Homeless Shelter in San Francisco. Karen also never met a dog she didn't like, her volunteer work and support for the Guide Dogs for the Blind and ASPCA was a source of joy for her.

In between working full time and volunteering, Karen also enjoyed playing the piano, sewing, reading and knitting.  She was thoroughly interested in politics and enjoyed keeping up with national and local events. Karen and Phil loved to travel. Their last "big" trip was to Ireland in 2019 to meet many of Phil's relatives. They also visited Hawaii 8 times and traveled to many of the great cities in the US.

Karen and Phil lived in the same house in the Sunset area of San Francisco for 40 years. They loved the closeness to the ocean and the city itself.

To honor Karen's work in social justice and in lieu of flowers please consider a donation to one of these organizations that meant so much to her: World Wildlife Fund (, San Francisco/Marin Food Bank (, Guide Dogs for the Blind in San Raphel (350 Los Ranchitos Rd, San Rafael, CA 94903 ) and/or Homework Central at the Congregational Church in San Mateo ( There is no service scheduled at this time due to Covid-19. A celebration of Karen's life will be held next year when Covid-19 restrictions are lifted.