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Stephen Richard Gaddis

April 11, 1962 ~ January 6, 2022 (age 59)

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MARBLEHEAD – Stephen Richard Gaddis of Marblehead, beloved husband of Ashley Gaddis and father of William and Laurel Gaddis, died peacefully at home on Thursday, January 6, 2022, enveloped in his family’s love and gratitude. He was 59 and had been diagnosed with lung cancer in June 2020.

Steve was a lover of life, devoted and deeply loving husband and father, loyal and generous friend, gifted healer, inspired and intentional teacher, wise supervisor and mentor, deep thinker, enormously compassionate soul, and giver of the greatest hugs ever. For more than 20 years, he worked as a marriage and family therapist in Salem, helping hundreds of people and families on the North Shore and beyond create new and preferred stories about their lives and the challenges they encountered.

Steve loved his work and was passionate about Narrative Therapy, an approach to therapeutic work that centers clients’ experiences and knowledges of their own lives, hopes, and dreams over the “expert stance” of the therapist. In 2009, he co-founded the Narrative Therapy Initiative in Salem, a non-profit training institute, where he led workshops and conferences and created a world-wide community of Narrative practitioners. Steve taught Narrative Therapy courses at the Boston College Graduate School of Social Work, Salem State University, and the University of Waikato in New Zealand. He published and presented nationally and internationally.

Even more than his work, Steve fiercely loved his family. He spoke often and loudly of his love for Ashley, his life partner for 30 years, and Will and Laurel. He took enormous pride in the strong marriage he and Ashley built as well as his children’s accomplishments, in the classroom, on the soccer field, or in the equestrian ring. Steve and Ashley loved welcoming people into their homes for parties, intimate dinners, Narrative gatherings, and family celebrations. Steve met everyone with a warm hug, a big smile, a stance of curiosity about their lives, and a commitment to making sure they knew they mattered.

Steve was born on April 11, 1962, in San Francisco, California, the oldest of four siblings, and grew up in the Bay Area. Fear and abuse were strong presences in Steve’s childhood, and at age 18 he left home. For the next 10 years, Steve bounced around his beloved northern California, working various jobs to support himself, including as a shoe salesman, crab fisherman, and sea kayaking instructor. In his 20s, he attended Humboldt State University, where he studied environmental engineering and was an All-American rugby player.

At the age of 29, he worked with a gifted therapist to change patterns in his life he did not like and came to the realization that his life’s purpose was to become “a therapist who doesn’t suck.” Seeking a fresh start, he moved to Colorado to return to college. He took an unpaid internship at the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center teaching adaptive skiing to people with disabilities. That is where he met his soul mate, Ashley Ryan, the love of his life.

After that romantic first winter together, Steve and Ashley moved to Fort Collins, CO, where Steve earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Colorado State University. He then earned a PhD in marriage and family therapy from Syracuse University. In 1999, he and Ashley moved with their young son, Will, to the North Shore of Massachusetts, first living in Beverly and later in Marblehead. In 2000, Laurel was born, and Steve established his independent practice. In 2006, Steve was offered a one-year visiting professor position at the University of Waikato in New Zealand. True to their adventurous spirit, Steve and Ashley packed up their bags and two young children, and flew to other side of the world, where they had the most magical year as a family living in a magical country.

In addition to loving his family and work, Steve deeply loved his friends and colleagues. He lived life fully and authentically. He loved being active and outside in beautiful places. He enjoyed playing soccer and rugby, and loved golfing, hiking, sailing, and camping. He loved the Rangeley Lakes region of western Maine, where he and his family spent summer vacations for 20 years. He loved listening to all kinds of music, but especially loved “The Boss.” He loved intimate conversations with people. He loved cuddles on the couch with his children, delicious food and drink, laughing, being mischievous, sharing his vulnerabilities with others, and challenging societal norms and assumptions.

Steve’s cancer diagnosis was shocking, especially as he was a non-smoker, but he chose to define what his relationship with cancer would be. He continued to live an intentional life, meeting with clients, teaching, spending precious time with family and friends, reading, and writing. When Steve found out his cancer was terminal, he asked us all not to think of his death as something awful but to instead think of his life as something blessed, wonderful, and richer than he ever imagined possible.

In addition to Ashley, Will, and Laurel, Steve is survived by his mother and stepfather, Catherine and Sam McWilliams of Denver, CO; his parents-in-law, Bill and Judy Ryan of Nyack, NY; three siblings, Mike Gaddis, Richard Gaddis, and Stephanie Decker; his sister-in-law, Sarah Ryan, and her husband, Robert Wieman; many nieces and nephews; and dear friends all over the world.

ARRANGEMENTS: Visiting hours to honor and remember Steve will be held at O’Donnell Cremations – Funerals – Celebrations, 84 Washington Square (at Salem Common), SALEM, on Saturday, January 15th, from 12 (Noon) to 4 P.M. Facial coverings will be required. A joyous Celebration of Steve’s Life will be held when it is safer for people to travel and gather. In lieu of flowers, please consider making a memorial gift to the Narrative Therapy Initiative (, the Rangeley Lakes Heritage Trust (, or Care Dimensions ( To share a memory or offer a condolence, please visit  

To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of Stephen Richard Gaddis, please visit our floral store.


January 15, 2022

12:00 PM to 4:00 PM
O'Donnell Cremations - Funerals - Celebrations SALEM
84 Washington Square
Salem, MA 01970

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