Like many accomplished individuals, Lee Gaillard, award-winning educator and freelance writer, weighs words carefully before speaking, a preciseness exemplified in his various publications. He is proud of his wife, Ann, rector of the Church of St. Luke's, the Beloved Physician, in Saranac Lake, and speaks of his own achievements only after some prodding. A visit to their home at the rectory, however, reveals a man of intense and varied interests. His and Ann's book collection is vast; the art displayed in their home reflects an international interest in a variety of subjects. Their delight at living in and preserving an historic home is most evident.
Lee's writing career began, in a sense, at the age of fourteen when, already fascinated with aviation, he wrote an initial 50 pages of a history of rocketry. Brought up in New York City in the 1940s, when it was possible to safely travel the subways and busses for a nickel, he and his friends showed a healthy, somewhat precocious intellectual curiosity, spending much of their free time at the Natural History Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Though his mother, Pat Coffin (Modern Living Editor at Look Magazine) talked little about her work, no doubt her interest in the printed word rubbed off on him as he spent many hours reading all the books he could get his hands on.
As a teenager, he attended the Choate School in Wallingford, Conn., and then Yale University, where he majored in English and American Literature, graduating Phi Beta Kappa, Magna Cum Laude. His open and inquiring mind led him to continue his education by attending Middlebury College for an MA in English and American literature, as well as other institutions of higher learning over the next several years.
(Photo — Caperton Tissot)
In 1961, he joined the Marine Corps Reserve where, after six months of Parris Island and advanced combat training, he drilled two weekends a month plus two weeks in the summer, enabling him to continue his job and be home with his first wife, Elena, whom he married in 1962.
He had been hired by Time-Life International in 1961 and after three years was appointed assistant promotion manager. But he found the work exceedingly repetitive and soon decided to heed the advice of the college professor who had urged him to get into the field of education. He did; it was a good fit, and he taught for more than three decades.
His first teaching position was at Athens College in Greece, where he spent a year teaching European history and English as a second language-during vacations traveling to Egypt, Turkey and the Greek Isles. In 1965, he returned to America to become an English instructor and crew coach at St. Mark's School in Southboro, Mass., remaining there for eight years, during which time his son Greg and daughter Jennifer were born. The perpetual demands of boarding school-teaching, coaching, mealtimes, weekends and monitoring study halls-left few hours for family life. And despite provision of room and board for faculty, salaries were then too low for teachers to save for a mortgage to buy their own home. He found it time for a change.
In 1973, the Gaillards moved to the Hockaday School in Dallas, Texas, where he became the English department chair and eventually head of the upper school.
In 1979 he asked his wife for a divorce. Four years later he met his present wife, Ann, who came to teach English at Hockaday. In 1985, they married. Over the years, he and Ann moved on to different schools as he sought new professional opportunities. Then, in 1994, Ann was invited to become head of the English department at the William Penn Charter School in Philadelphia. With Ann having followed Lee's career moves, now Lee told Ann she needed to accept this opportunity and he would follow her.
In Philadelphia, Ann worked full time as English department chair, Lee in different positions in education and industry. Though he had previously devoted part of his school vacations to writing, his varied schedule in Philadelphia allowed him to launch into more extensive freelance work.
In the late 1990s, Ann felt a call to enter the ministry. She attended The General Seminary of the Episcopal Church in New York City, she and Lee exchanging weekends at each other's location. On finishing, she served as associate rector in a church near Philadelphia before, in 2008, accepting the position of rector at St. Luke's in Saranac Lake. Because Lee was by this time officially retired and freelancing from home, moving with her to the Adirondacks posed no problem.
From the age of 10, Lee had remained fascinated with aviation, and through the years his research collection on the topic continued to grow. Finally, in Philadelphia, he had begun writing about it again. The quality of the writing, his painstakingly detailed, well-researched work, along with his analytical skills, attracted the attention of aviation experts. He started to get requests for articles on aviation and defense issues. The most unusual request, however, came in 2005 when Winslow Wheeler (director of the Strauss Military Reform Project at the Center for Defense Information in Washington, D.C.) approached him with major concerns about the military effectiveness of the V-22 Osprey, a military assault transport designed to take off and land like a helicopter, but fly horizontally at the speed of a turboprop feederliner. Having already written articles about this subject, Lee spent nine months doing additional research. His worst fears were confirmed: The Osprey had major design flaws which suggested, in his words, that in a high-speed vertical descent under fire, it would "either crash or get shot out of the sky." In 2006, he completed his monograph for the Center for Defense Information: V-22 Osprey: Wonder Weapon or Widow Maker?
Though the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform recently recommended the Osprey be "put out of its misery" by ceasing production immediately, that has not yet happened. Because its parts are made in 45 of our 50 states, Congressional representatives have over the years voted to continue its manufacture in order to provide jobs and votes in their districts.
Today, while many consider the plane fatally flawed, the Osprey has continued to fly in low-threat areas in Iraq, where its reliability and maintainability proved problematic. It will face far greater challenges in Afghanistan, should it be deployed there this fall.
About freelancing, Lee says, "The nice thing is you can write about things you are interested in, and you don't have deadlines." Given his curiosity, his interests are many. In addition to aviation, he has written and published scores of articles and book reviews on such subjects as: "Tapping Out: Forget Oil-Water is the Crisis," "Behind Deep Blue: Building the Computer that Defeated the World Chess Champion," "School Reform: Avoid it and Pay," "Keats's Ode 'On Melancholy,' " and "Hemingway's Debt to Cezanne: New Perspectives." (Several have appeared in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise.) He is presently working on a piece about the Air France Flight 447 disaster and another about the curious link between American naturalist John James Audubon and English poet John Keats.
Both he and Ann are delighted with their move to Saranac Lake, Lee reports. He finds the people warm and friendly and the landscapes magnificent. He is also amazed at the tremendously varied backgrounds and careers of so many area residents. This couple will certainly be valuable contributors to the community at large. Saranac Lake is fortunate to have them.