MOSS LANDING -- Melanie Mayer Gideon was just 8 when she decided to become a marine biologist.
That youthful commitment led the Sacramento native to Moss Landing, where she became a business owner, an educator and a community leader.
Gideon died Jan. 8. She was 52.
Kim Solano, owner of the Haute Enchilada Café, said Monday that Moss Landing, the small town at the center of the Monterey Bay, remained in shock.
"It's a tremendous loss," Solano said. "We will miss her."
Monterey County Supervisor Lou Calcagno called Gideon "a pillar" and said she almost "single-handedly" was responsible for seeing the Moss Landing Marine Laboratories rebuilt after the original facilities were destroyed in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. He recalled how crucial Gideon's testimony was at hearings before the California Coastal Commission in the face of opposition by some environmental and Native American groups.
"She carried that whole project. She got it built just like she said she would," he said. "There wasn't a problem too great or unsolvable. She was very nice and easy, but she never gave up."
Gideon also had served as president of the Moss Landing Chamber of Commerce and as chair of the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board. She established the first education programs at Elkhorn Slough for training teachers and volunteers, and was a lifetime member of the Elkhorn Slough Foundation.
In 1995, she and husband Capt. Yohn Gideon launched Elkhorn Slough Safari, a tour company that's guided thousands of people into the estuarine preserve. They also restored the old Pacific Steamship building to create the Captain's Inn Bed and Breakfast in 2003. She also operated a land-use consulting business, Melanie Mayer Consulting.
Gideon, who lived as a girl in Prunedale, came to the Moss Landing Marine Laboratories as a graduate student in the 1980s, and she remained a faithful alumna. In a tribute posted on the labs' website, former director Kenneth Coale and several colleagues wrote of Gideon's dedication and of the credibility she built with state and local officials.
"She has been the girl next door to MLML," the tribute says. "In the dedicated ways in which she has promoted her family, her business, her community and her commitment to those who are trying to make a difference in service to their community and to the environment, she has made an indelible and everlasting mark."
Moss Landing was where "her home and her heart was," Coale said Monday. "She was the unofficial mayor as I see it."
With the birth of her twins, Hans and Haylee, in 2003, Gideon's focus shifted to family. She supported her children's sports activities and volunteered in their classrooms.
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At a glance
Melanie Mayer Gideon
BORN: Mar. 20, 1960
DIED: Jan. 8, 2013
OCCUPATION: Business owner
EDUCATION: 1978 Salinas High School graduate; bachelor's degree in marine biology, San Jose State; master's degree, marine science, Moss Landing Marine Laboratories
SURVIVORS: Husband Capt. Yohn Gideon; children Hans and Haylee
SERVICES: Pending. Struve and Laporte Funeral Home in Salinas is in charge of the arrangements.
CONTRIBUTIONS: A college fund has been established for her children. Checks payable to Hans and Haylee Gideon with Melanie Gideon Memorial in memo line may be sent to P.O. Box 570, Moss Landing, CA 95039.