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The ASTRONAUT’S MOM



Linda Relis

Award-winning artist, Linda Relis, poses at her home/studio in Port St. Lucie. Many of her works feature birds of Florida in their native habitats, preserving beautiful scenery in oils on canvas. JOHN BIONDO PHOTO

BY DEBRA MAGRANN

Linda Relis is down-to-earth and pragmatic about life. Her worldview is formed with a “both feet on the ground” kind of attitude. For the mother of an astronaut, she’s exceptionally humble.

At the age of 18, Relis married and had her first child, Ronald Garan Jr., a year later. Eventually, she found herself raising three boys as a single parent in the 1960s. Life was demanding, but Relis met the challenge while attending night classes.

“I figured, why give up?” she says. “I kept trying. I knew I’d be successful eventually. Only I had the power to change my life and didn’t accept failure.”

Relis attended the School of Visual Arts and the New York School of Interior Design in Manhattan. She remembers how difficult those years were. “I had lots of friends but no money; you don’t realize how poor you really are,” she says. “I wanted to be an artist, but not a struggling artist.”

Relis is a native New Yorker, Florida snowbird and spends summers in North Carolina. Her lifelong love of nature influences her art form. The environs of the mountains in North Carolina and the tropical scenery of Florida are her backdrops for producing fine art oil paintings.

Earning a living as an artist since 1982, her works have earned many awards. Her paintings are in private and corporate collections throughout the United States including the State of Florida’s permanent art collection, part of the Art in Public Buildings Program.

As her two older sons left the nest, the youngest, Daniel Garan, decided he wanted to attend the Guitar Institute of Technology in California. Linda left a job at her father’s warehouse in
South Bronx, leased her house in New York and headed for the West Coast. She dropped by UCLA’s art department, found a job posting and went to work.
“Daniel was a very talented musician,” Relis says. “He attended the one-year program and decided that he didn’t like the lifestyle of most guitarists who were using drugs in the ’80s, so we returned home.”

He attended Hunter College-The City University of New York in Manhattan where his physics professor urged him to apply for a four-year scholarship. Later, he earned a Master of Engineering degree in thermofluids from the University of Central Florida and has been a mechanical engineer and inventor of turbine and combustion designs for Siemens Energy in Orlando since 2000.

Relis has a proverbial middle child, John. Because she instilled good self-worth in all her boys, his outgoing, entrepreneurial energy manifested itself in positive avenues. He attended college at night, earning a bachelor’s degree in three years. Living in Las Vegas with his family, he operates a chain of auto service companies and their spinoffs.

Her eldest son, Ron, is a decorated Air Force colonel and former NASA astronaut. She marvels at his uncanny ability to excel at anything he puts his mind to. He has degrees in business economics, aerospace engineering and an honorary doctorate.

The NASA candidate process was trying for him. He was the only applicant who brought his wife along on the callback. Relis believes it was Carmel who sealed the deal.
She and Garan met at Hahn Air Base in Germany. They are parents of three boys, including twins.

“She’s a really good match for him,” Relis says. “Carmel came to visit me when he was on the International Space Station. During its flyover, Ronnie phoned. And he never, ever, forgot to call me on my birthday — even when he was in the middle of Desert Storm, he called — he’s that caring.”

Garan’s first space flight aboard the space shuttle Discovery was to the International Space Station. Tethered to a robotic arm on a space walk, he was filled with awe that shifted his thinking — the overview effect.

His book, The Orbital Perspective: Lessons in Seeing the Big Picture from a Journey of 71 Million Miles, is a call to action, inspiring people to make a difference — make the world a better planet. In short, Garan says it was the impetus that spurred him toward global humanitarian projects. He’s tackled the need for sustainable ways to provide purified drinking water in Africa through carbon credits and brought solar panels to Rwanda.

“He is making influential changes for the betterment of society,” Relis says.

Garan’s second trip to the ISS in 2011 was via the Russian Soyuz spacecraft Gagarin, named in honor of the 50th anniversary of historic orbit in 1961 of Maj. Yuri Gagarin — launched from the same pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. “The story my grandfather would tell was since we were of Russian descent, his father changed the name at Ellis Island to Americanize it. Gagarin became Garan,” he says.

Relis was invited to attend the launch and celebration, but declined. The thought of a trip overseas didn’t interest her when she could watch it on TV. But she did need reassuring that the Russians knew what they were doing. Garan’s reply, “Mom, don’t worry about it. They’ve been doing this for 50 years.”

Garan and fellow astronaut Mark Kelly joined World View Enterprises Inc. this year, a pioneering, near-space, balloon-launch company that tapped Garan as chief pilot for robotic flight operations and passenger flights. By 2018, commercial lifts will take passengers on a five-hour ride to the edge of space for $75,000. The orbital perspective each rider gains is priceless. How they pay it forward is their gift to mankind.

When asked if he got his tenacity from his mother, he replies, “If tenacity is genetic, I guess I got it from her.”

Living in multiple areas of the country, family gatherings are infrequent, but the bonds are strong.

“The brothers encourage one another,” she says. “I told them growing up: ‘Do your best; mistakes are not bad — learn from them.’ I can sit back and feel good that I have done my job, but I know their success didn’t come from me.”



LINDA RELIS

Age: “A lady does not reveal her age.”
Lives in: Port St. Lucie (October - April) and Brasstown, N.C. (April – October).
Occupation: Full-time artist.
Family: Husband, Peter Lichtblau; three sons: Ron, John and Daniel Garan; eight grandchildren.
Education: School of Visual Arts and the New York School of Interior Design in Manhattan.
Hobbies: “I like to read historical novels and the Outlander series along with nature walks and bird watching from my porch in North Carolina.”
What inspires me: “Nature - the way light falls on an object or something that just takes my breath away.”
Something most people don’t know about me: “I tend to be reclusive and, as long as I have something creative to do, I like it that way.”