Peter Gimbel didn’t believe he was extraordinary.
Even though the Long Island native faced the challenges of Duchenne muscular dystrophy, Gimbel not only persisted, he thrived: as a social worker who advocated for independent living for people with disabilities, and as a husband and father.
“He didn’t want to be inspirational — it’s not what he was setting out to do,” said his wife, Jessica Resnick-Ault. “But given the scope of his limitations really, the very ordinary things he did were inspirational to a lot of people.”
Gimbel, who resided in Scarsdale, died Jan. 9 at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan after a monthlong battle with a respiratory illness. He was 33.
Gimbel grew up in Glen Cove. As a child, he was diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy and, starting when he was 11, had to use a wheelchair.
He went on to attend Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, where he studied comparative literature with a focus on Spanish literature. Despite his limitations, he studied for a semester in Madrid, where he learned to navigate public transportation to attend classes and traveled across the country.
It was at Brown that Gimbel met Resnick-Ault.
“I thought he was smart and funny and physically attractive,” she said of Gimbel, who was a part of an a capella group and made CDs of original songs. “He was kind of a rock star.”
The couple married in 2006 and moved to Houston, with Gimbel volunteering for organizations such as the Muscular Dystrophy Association, for which he led a Spanish-language support group. In 2008, Gimbel completed his master’s in social work at the University of Houston. In his spare time he enjoyed reading science fiction, and listening to and composing music, Resnick-Ault said.
The couple had a daughter, Helen, now 6, and settled in Scarsdale in 2012 after Gimbel began working for the DAWN Center for Independent Living in Denville, New Jersey.
Gimbel loved cheering his daughter on at swim practice and going with her to the Bronx Zoo and the Museum of Natural History. The pair shared a love of science and nature, and playing 20 Questions.
“He was very focused on being a parent,” his wife said.
As visiting clients and speaking on the phone became more difficult, he began to re-evaluate how he could continue to work. Then DAWN’s website was hacked and Gimbel, despite having no computer expertise, rebuilt the site from the ground up and became the group’s webmaster. He also launched his own blog and developed other sites using a Jouse — which converts Morse code breaths into letters — memorizing Morse code in the process.
“Yes, he was legitimately frustrated by the very real challenges he faced, but he figured out ways around them,” his wife said.
In addition to his wife and daughter, Gimbel is survived by his parents, Thomas and Lesley of Glen Cove; and sisters Hope Gimbel of Manhattan and Lesley Gimbel of Florida. Gimbel’s brother, Thomas S.T. Gimbel Jr., who also had muscular dystrophy, died in 2016.
Peter Gimbel’s remains are buried in the memorial garden at St. John’s of Lattingtown in Locust Valley.