Log in Subscribe

Melissa Gugig-Rennie

December 15, 1953 ~ December 31, 2023

Posted 5/7/24

It is with immeasurable sadness that I share the death of my beloved sister.

Melissa Gugig-Rennie, 70, a loving, quick witted, bright light, died December 31, while on Hospice at the home of her …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Melissa Gugig-Rennie

December 15, 1953 ~ December 31, 2023


It is with immeasurable sadness that I share the death of my beloved sister.

Melissa Gugig-Rennie, 70, a loving, quick witted, bright light, died December 31, while on Hospice at the home of her sister Debra with her childhood friend Sandy Houliff-Martirano and Debra at her side. She died unexpectedly due to metastatic ovarian cancer. 

Melissa was a resident of Monticello, NY. She made a profound difference in the many lives she touched. She was born in Brooklyn, NY to decorated war hero Morris Gugig and Pamela Gugig who later became known as Pamela Moore-Epstein the “Lady Auctioneer.”

Right away, her parents could tell that she was incredibly intelligent and independent. 

They took her to Hunter University to be evaluated by their Gifted Children’s program.

Not surprisingly, Melissa was determined to be an intellectually gifted learner.

Pamela would place vegetables on the front of Melissa’s fork and tuck the meat on to the back of the fork. Melissa would manage to outwit her mother’s best intentions, by deftly using her tongue to snag the meat and leave the unwanted vegetables. 

And that independent streak would rear its head often, like the time when she was five years old, walking with her mother and sister Debra on fashion conscious Fifth Ave.

Her mother wanted Melissa to wear her Mary Jane Patent leather shoes with the buckle securely across her ankle. Melissa was sure that this was not fashionable, so when she saw a police officer walking towards them, she called out in her spirited voice, “Officer! Officer! Arrest this woman! The officer asked what offense her mother had committed, and Melissa gave him a fashion lesson noting that wearing the strap in the back was more stylish. The officer said, “Oh Mam, she’s just a little girl, let her wear her shoes her way.”

And so, right there in the middle of bustling Fifth Avenue, Melissa bent down and adjusted her shoes and said “thank you” as she gave the officer a big smile.

Even though she was the younger sister, she was always the cheerleader and defender of her older sister.

Not long after the patent leather shoe incident, Melissa and Debra were in a schoolyard where an older bully was taunting Debra. 

Even though Melissa was only six years old, she grabbed the boy who was bigger than her, by his collar and said to him, “You mess with my sister, “I’m going to punch you in the kisser!”

The family had no idea what prompted her to utter the words of a Brooklyn gangster.

When her father got a new job in Sullivan County as the administrator of a retirement home for retired show business stars, Melissa was unable to attend a school for gifted children. After Morris was tragically killed in a car accident, Pamela raised Melissa and Debra in Woodbourne, NY where they attended Fallsburg Central School.

Not only did Melissa excel in school, but she had charm and charisma in spades. 

She always had an entourage of friends following her and laughing at her hysterical repertoire of funny accents and imaginative stories. She was a whole lot of fun, but she was also incredibly generous and kindhearted. She befriended other kids who were not popular and helped them to feel appreciated. Whether you were popular or the class loner, Melissa became your friend.

While she attended Fallsburg, she made many lifelong friendships and in the past few years, Melissa and many of her friends started getting together for monthly lunches. Although Melissa was politically progressive, she had an amazing ability for finding the common denominator, reaching across the political divide, and maintaining her friendships with those who held opposing views. 

After graduating from Fallsburgh, she went to Sullivan County Community college where she obtained her certification as a Medical Lab Assistant.

She worked as a physician/lab assistant, but quickly decided that vaccinating young kids, and dealing with unpleasant medical procedures was not for her. While she may not have had the temperament for treating young patients, she could always think fast on her feet. 

She worked a brief stint as a bartender in the Catskills’ famous Kutcher’s hotel.

One evening a customer walked in sporting a gun. The manager of the bar was frantic and quickly found Melissa and said “Melissa, what should I do?”

Melissa replied, “Don’t worry I’ll handle it” She casually strode up to the man and said, “Hi, how, you doing? You ever watch any westerns?” The man nodded affirmatively. Melissa said, “Well you know how the guy always hands over his piece to the bartender and the bartender puts the gun behind the bar for safekeeping and when the owner’s ready to leave, the bartender returns his gun. The guy said, “Yeah! I seen that before.”

Melissa replied “Well, that how it works here.” The man gave Melissa his gun. She placed it behind the bar. When the gun’s owner was ready to leave, she smiled and gave it back to him.

Later, she moved to Long Island where she was hired by LIU (Long Island University) Post Campus. Over the course of her twenty-two year illustrious career, she served in various capacities including directing a student counseling program. Ultimately, she became the Assistant University Bursar/Collections Manager. 

Her glowing reference letters touted her prowess at collections while also showing incredible compassion for the students.

While working at LIU, she obtained her certification with “Distinction” in Paralegal Studies and then obtained her BA in Journalism, graduating “Magna Cum Laude.”

According to one of her professors, Melissa’s analysis of an article written by a famous New York Times writer was brilliant! Melissa’s critique of the writer’s article included phrases like “while this article will never sing, it could be made to stop moaning.” 

The writer shall remain nameless.

Melissa was an exceptional writer and photographer and crafted stories that enlightened, entertained and warmed the hearts of countless readers.

She was a reporter for the Glen Cove Pilot and was the Community News Coordinator for the Sullivan County Bureau of the Times Herald Record.

Her captivating stories and powerful photos for the T.H. Record can still be found online. 

Melissa was also the Associate Director of residential programs for the Sullivan County ARC. She wrote and edited articles on risk management, advocacy and inclusion, and she was a contributor to the book The Facts of Life and More about sexuality and intimacy for individuals with intellectual disabilities.

She volunteered for non-profit organizations in Long Island and Sullivan County including the River Fund, the Sullivan County SPCA and Literacy Volunteers of America. 

Her creativity sparked highly innovative and successful fundraising campaigns and her public relations talent made an immense difference to the groups she served.. 

Melissa was an ardent reader, who especially enjoyed Bill Bryson, David Sedaris, Mazo De La Roche and James Herriot.

Living on Long Island, she met and married Tommy Rennie. While Melissa and Tommy eventually parted ways, Melissa and Tommy still cared for one another. 

Melissa also remained friends with Tommy’s sister, her sister in-law Carol Rennie Burke. 

She loved being the favorite Auntie to Carol’s young children. Carol still has the hand-made sheets, pillowcases, and quilt that Melissa made for her children’s doll’s crib. 

Melissa also continued her friendship with her dear friends from Long Island Sissy and Dennis.

After moving back to Sullivan County, she reconnected with her friend David Shapiro and their relationship blossomed into an epic story- book romance.

When asked about the secret sauce that characterized their relationship, David smiled and said, “Well our greatest joy lies in pleasing one another.”

When David developed kidney cancer, Melissa became his steadfast caregiver. Sadly, her soul mate David passed away in September of 2015. 

Melissa appreciated attending live music at the Bethel Woods Arts Center and other local venues and going with her women friends to casino. She told Debra that she was strict about sticking to her twenty-dollar limit, however one of her friends confided that this was not always the case. Sometimes, she would dip inside her bag for another twenty, which once resulted in her winning five hundred dollars.

As much as she enjoyed spending time out with others, she was also a homebody, who found joy in crafting, sewing, and other needlework, along with working in her garden, decorating, and cooking.

Her pot roast, stews and apple pies were legendary. She recently renovated her kitchen and was proud of the many upgrades to her charming craftsman home. 

Melissa and Debra also enjoyed their Sunday phone calls where they would catch up and reminisce about their childhood memories. Debra enjoyed finally being the big sister and she treasured their friendship. 

Melissa had gone to school with Dennis Newberg, the owner of Upstate Abstract of New York and an exceptionally talented singer and musician who performed at many local clubs. Melissa enjoyed watching Dennis perform, and she and Dennis rekindled their friendship and then became a couple.

Knowing that Melissa had worked at LIU and had a strong business acumen, Dennis asked Melissa if she wanted to work at his title agency, since one of his employees had left to take another job. Melissa accepted his offer and enjoyed working with her Upstate Abstract family. 

While Dennis faced some medical challenges, Melissa provided her support and when Melissa was diagnosed with cancer, Dennis rose to the occasion and not only was there for Melissa but extended his support and friendship to Melissa’s sister as well.

Melissa had a wonderful dog named Ziva, a nod to the TV show NCIS and a great cat named Hank. Melissa would take Ziva for endless walks throughout her neighborhood. She became friends with practically everyone.

When it became clear that Melissa would have to give up her beloved Ziva and Hank, a power greater than Melissa or her sister, stepped in and created a miracle that would give Melissa much comfort and gratitude.

First, Ziva was brought to the SPCA in Rock Hill, a “No Kill” shelter. 

The following week, Debra brought Ziva’s dog bed and toys to the shelter. While Debra was visiting with Ziva, Ann and Mike Willis walked in and said, “We’re here to see Ziva.”

Debra introduced herself and the couple fell in love with Ziva and adopted her on the spot.

The following week, Melissa’s neighbor Howard brought Hank to the shelter and while he was there, he asked the shelter if Mike and Ann might want Hank, Ziva’s feline companion. 

The shelter staff called Mike and Ann and sure enough, they adopted Hank as well.

Melissa could not believe the serendipity. She was overjoyed to know that Ziva and Hank would be loved and well cared for.

Melissa and Debra are both grateful to the Willis family who have given Ziva and Hank a new loving home.

Melissa was predeceased by her fiancé David, her parents and grandparents, her Aunt Shirley, and her paternal uncles Mac and Bernie. Her brother-in-law Alan Bauer and her former husband, Thomas Rennie also predeceased her.

She is survived by her adoring sister Debra, her partner Dennis Newberg, her Auntie Phyllis Harris, and her cousins Tzipora Reitman (Moshe), Melanie Harris-Prospect (Michael) and Matthew Harris (Lisa) She is also survived by her countless, devoted friends and David’s daughter, Samantha Shapiro.

Debra would especially like to acknowledge Melissa’s dear friends and neighbors Howard and Helene Perlman, Adrian and Mike Dollard, and Melissa’s “Class of 71” friends all of whom have not only been supportive of Melissa when she became ill but also have extended their support to Debra as well. Melissa and Debra deeply appreciate your love and kindness.

Howard has been helpful in so many ways, and Helene brought Melissa homemade soup which Melissa devoured. Adrian reached out to the Sullivan County SPCA to pave the way for Ziva and Hank’s adoption.

Debra would also like to thank Melissa’s PCP Heidi Pavesi, PA, and her local oncologist Dr. Robert Dinsmore. Your compassion and dedication to Melissa’s best interest is gratefully appreciated. 

Cremation was entrusted to the care of Meyer’s Funeral Home, Delmar, NY 12054.

A Memorial Service will be held on Sunday, May 19, at 1:00 P.M. at the Joseph N. Garlick Funeral Home, 388 Broadway, Monticello, New York 12701 (845) 794-7474. josephngarlick@gmail.com

The service will be live streamed via the funeral parlor’s website, for those who only wish to observe the service but cannot attend in person, Online condolences may be posted on the obituary’s tribute wall. 

The service will also be available via a ZOOM link for those who wish to participate by sharing a memory or a few words. A special email has been set up to receive the ZOOM link and to RSVP if you plan to attend the service in person and also want to be included in the post-service arrangements. Sending an RSVP to melissamemorialservice@gmail.com would be gratefully appreciated. If you have any questions, you may send them to melissamemorialservice@gmail.com. 

In lieu of flowers, donations in Melissa’s memory may be made to the Sullivan County SPCA, PO Box 995, Rock Hill, NY 12775. Melissa felt very strongly about animal rescue work. The Sullivan County SPCA is a “No Kill” shelter and Melissa’s beloved Ziva and Hank found a new loving family through this wonderful organization.

Melissa was cremated by Meyer’s Funeral Home in Delmar, NY. Memorial Service is Sunday, May 19, at one P.M. at Joseph N. Garlick Funeral Home in Monticello, NY. Please note that this info is also contained within the body of the email.