FACES OF THE BANKRUPTCY : GAIL STRACHAN, 49, ANAHEIM

They were all Orange County employees until the bankruptcy opened a trapdoor beneath them, sending their lives tumbling into uncertainty. The Times told the stories of 50 such workers in March. One year after the bankruptcy, we revisit eight of them below.

Gail Strachan cried the day her office manager called her into the small conference room and, reading from a form letter, told her that she would have to gather her belongings and leave the building. After 17 years, the accounting assistant was no longer an employee.

Upset, she went to apply for unemployment--and got a $35 parking ticket while reading through a stack of forms. Strachan, who describes herself as emotional, was shivering with frustration and anxiety.

But now, with 10 months to distance herself from those shaky days, Strachan says the loss of her old job was only a passing pain in her life. The unemployment aid helped her get by for a few months and now she is living on her savings, but even that financial unsteadiness has been acceptable because not working has given her a chance to pursue a new start.

Strachan had been working toward her bachelor's degree in public accounting at Cal Poly Pomona while employed at the county, and the layoff allowed her to step up those efforts. She graduates in June and is now seeking a job. So far, her letters and resumes have not met with success, but she is enthusiastic about her new venture.

"I think it may have been best for me, really," she said. "But I know a lot of other people have really suffered. I wish the whole thing could have been avoided for them. I'm doing OK, though."

Still, Strachan is grappling with money matters. She has had no replacement for her $23,000 annual income. A relative owns the mortgage on her home, relieving a lot of the pressure, but the lack of paychecks has forced her to greatly curtail expenses. "It's especially tough with Christmas coming up. I'm cutting way back this year."

Strachan is not sure she would feel much more comfortable if she were still with the county. She cited a friend who had been fired, rehired and then laid off again. At least now, she said, she knows where she stands and what direction she wants to go in.

"If you ever want to see doom and gloom, just walk around the county offices now. I'm kind of glad I'm out of there, actually. Even if you're still there, you're not really secure right now."

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