Zena Gaynes was born in 1938. She grew up in Brooklyn, New York. Zena was the youngest of three girls.
As a young adult, Zena got a Bachelor’s degree and was the only member of her family to attend graduate school as well as the first of her family to move across the country. Zena had an adventurous and curious spirit. She loved to explore, learn, and try new things. It’s no surprise that she got multiple degrees.
Zena was always an incredible teacher. She even taught teachers how to teach. She was also a clinical speech therapist. An artist and performer at heart, the one career that took precedence over all the others was acting. Over the course of her life, she made Guest Star and Recurring appearances on such network tv shows as Who’s The Boss, NYPD Blue, Rules of Engagement, and more recently, Shameless and Jimmy Kimmel Live, on which she played Brian Cranston’s mother.
Zena showered her family with love. She was a selfless caregiver to four people that covered decades. She acted as the matriarch of the family. She never went more than a few days without calling. When you heard; “‘Ello Dear, what’s happenin’ baby?” on the other end of the phone, with her thick Brooklyn accent and zany voice, there was no question that you were loved and supported. Zena was an avid reader, card player and she particularly loved getting together with a group for Mah Jongg. She loved musicals, traveling, knitting, crocheting, making jewelry, babies/kids and people. She traveled the world and she truly cared about people. She would crochet blankets, clothes and goodies for family members, but also for charities and shelters, often asking and looking for ways to donate. She’d also make costume jewelry, gifting it to family and friends. She was a child whisperer. There was no baby that she didn’t immediately adore and that didn’t immediately love her back. There is truly no one else in the world like Zena.
Zena is remembered and cherished by her nieces, nephew, great niece, great nephew, cousins, extended family, and the massive community of friends she made an impact on over the years. In her final months, Zena got to know Rabbi Howard of JHCLA and both she and her family were and are very grateful for the care and support that Rabbi Howard and JHCLA offered her. Zena will remain in the hearts of many and will be forever loved and missed. For those interested in her body of acting work, you can view it here: