Melanie Katherine Rowe, age 56, passed away peacefully Saturday, July 29th, 2023, in Gilbert, AZ, after a battle with lung cancer. Her longtime companion, Heath Sheppard, was by her side.
Melanie was born in Inglewood, CA, on December 22, 1966, to parents Clifton and Gloria Whaley. When Melanie was 3 years old, the family moved across the country to Virginia. In 1974, they returned to California for good; first, making their home in Buellton and later moving to Solvang. Melanie graduated from Santa Ynez Valley Union High School in 1984. As a teenager, she worked at Mortensen’s Bakery. Even then, she had a penchant for shenanigans and the ability to make her mark on the people around her. She went on to Santa Barbara Business College, where she did quite well – except for Accounting, which, ironically, turned out to be her future career path. In the late 1990s, she moved from California to Arizona. Melanie worked at Nordstrom, then moved on to Accounts Payable at Enterprise Rent-A-Car, followed by stints at Aprisa, St. Luke’s Medical Center, and Mountain Vista Medical Center. Everywhere she worked, she left behind a trail of new friends. She finished her career at Arizona Spine & Joint Hospital, where she was known by all and loved by many.
As anyone who knew Melanie would suspect, she was a bit wild in her youth. Once during Fiesta Week in Santa Barbara (sometimes described as merely an excuse to drink), Melanie and a friend had misplaced their driver’s licenses. At their young age, they could not set foot in a bar without identification. Melanie, being a resourceful young woman, came up with the brilliant idea to bring their yearbooks along to prove they were of age. The two walked around with yearbooks in hand all night long. Impressed by Melanie’s ingenuity, not one bouncer turned them away.
Melanie has a friend who described her as a “burnt marshmallow” – crusty on the outside and all gooey in the middle. It’s a fitting description. She could give you a scary look, but in truth, she was an approachable social butterfly who could (and would) talk to anyone about anything. No matter how short or (most likely) long the encounter, she was sure to make an impression. Everyone in her large circle of friends has at least one “Melanie story.” Things happened to her that could only happen to her. When she was recounting her latest exploit, the listener would inevitably think, “Of course this happened to Melanie!”
Most people keep notebooks and folders in their overhead work cabinet, but Melanie kept a fully stocked pantry, which was fondly referred to as Meli’s Deli (complete with a hand-painted sign made by a coworker). She prepared made-to-order sandwiches from her work desk, delivered them, and then circled back to make sure the sandwich was indeed to their liking. Anyone was welcome to help themselves to her food and heaven forbid if you tried to pay her for something you ate! Whenever she saw a need, she tried to make it right. She often went out of her way for people she didn’t even know. She once made a special trip to buy some milkshakes for random kids playing in her neighborhood. She knew the parents who parked outside her house every day to pick up their kids from school and let them park in her driveway. Another time, she made friends with a homeless gentleman and visited him regularly for conversation and a meal.
Melanie had a deep-seated love of animals. No matter how much you think you love your pets, Melanie loved them more. She was a proud “foster fail,” who couldn’t help but adopt the dog she was fostering. She often confessed that her dogs ate better than she did (pet meals were cooked from scratch). The food was so good that Heath once shared it with the dog he was babysitting! Melanie was not ashamed to admit that her dog, Billy, was her all-time favorite and “love of my life.” He had been abandoned by his previous owners and left in their home to fend for himself. How could she not take him in? No one ever captured her heart like Billy.
To be loved by Melanie was a special thing. Once given, her love was deep and without reservation. She took exceptional care of the people she loved without seeking to benefit herself. She possessed beauty, grace, and a faith that she expressed not with words, but by her consistent and considerate service to those who had the good fortune to know her. She will be missed.
Melanie is survived by her mother, Gloria Whaley, sister, Heather Weatherby, six nephews, one niece, and a great nephew. Melanie was preceded in death by her father, Clifton Whaley, whom she loved and missed dearly. Melanie is also survived by her dogs Fiona and Rudy, and predeceased by her dogs Zoe and Billy, as well as her cats, Pickles and Scrappy.
A memorial service will be held at 4:00 PM on August 5, 2023, at Gilbert Memorial Park Cemetery and Funeral Home, 2100 East Queen Creek Road, Gilbert AZ 85297.
In lieu of flowers, please consider donating to Hospice of the Valley or Friends for Life Animal Rescue in Gilbert, AZ.