Following a short illness, Happy Gaillard died peacefully in her sleep early Monday morning on August 5, 2013. At her 100th birthday in April, prior to her illness, she enjoyed a surprise advance celebration with island friends, and this was followed by a small gathering of family and close friends at her home on the actual day.
Happy’s association with Fishers Island went back to the first year of her life when she began spending summers at her family’s original Hay Harbor house, “Weltevreden” (meaning ”contentment” in Dutch — her mother’s family was from the Netherlands). This part-year presence continued until she moved to the island full-time in 1992, living in the house she had built on her share of the original Gaillard property.
Happy (nicknamed by her older sister at a very young age) was born in New York City and graduated from Smith College with high honors in 1934, following that with a master’s degree in education from Columbia after a three year World War II stint serving in the WAVES, the Navy’s auxiliary service for women, in Washington. Her career path remained in education, where she taught elementary and middle school children in various schools, finishing up at The Shipley School in Bryn Mawr on the Philadelphia main line.
Following her retirement from teaching, Happy pursued a variety of activities, including volunteer work near her home in Berwyn, PA, carpentry (she built two sturdy tables with no nails or screws), writing (she wrote a number of shorter and longer stories, principally for children, as well as poems to celebrate the birthdays and anniversaries of her parents and others), clay modeling (at least one of which was cast in bronze), travel (principally European trips), dogs (full-size poodles being her favorites), gardening and sporting activities (including sailing, tennis and golf). But it was always Fishers Island that drew her closer until she moved there permanently.
Happy never married, but she died leaving seven nieces and nephews, 24 “grands” (as she called them) and approximately 40 (too many, she said, for her to keep track of) great-grands. Her generosity towards this expanded family group was extraordinary, including substantial gifts for college and graduate school education and annual Christmas gifts to all of her “grands”. The generosity spread well beyond her family, however, and she provided regular support to a great many island and off-island charities. She was perhaps most proud of having started the Fishers Island Community Scholar-ship Fund, administered by St. John’s Church, with very substantial contributions which she tried her best (probably unsuccessfully) to keep anonymous.
Music always played a large role in Happy’s life. In Berwyn she had two pianos and enjoyed playing four-handed with musical friends. She continued her playing (on a single piano) at her home on Fishers Island, but added the responsibilities of serving as organist for both the Union Chapel and Our Lady of Grace Church, despite her repeated claim that she did not have a religious bone in her body. She played the organ past her 100th birthday, thereby becoming what was probably the only 100 year old organist in the country for two separate churches.
There will be no formal funeral service for Happy (she was adamant in stating that she wanted to go back to the earth in very simple fashion), but a memorial gathering is planned for family members and all interested islanders and off-island friends on Saturday, September 21, at 11:15 am in the Union Chapel. If anyone feels like making a charitable contribution in her memory, it would have given her great pleasure to know that it went to the Fishers Island Community Scholarship Fund.
Reprinted from August 2013 Foghorn