Saturday, November 03, 2012

Obituary: Gale Brownlee

Gale Brownlee, a lifelong resident of Woodstock, died October 25, at the Kingston Hospital. Having survived surgery after a fall, complications arose that even she could not master. 

Gale was born in the Benedictine Hospital; delivered by her grandfather, Woodstock’s beloved “Horse and Buggy” Doctor Mortimer B. Downer. Her mother was Gladys Downer Feeley and her father, John J. Feeley. She Attended Woodstock Elementary School and graduated from Kingston High School in 1944. There she was soloist for the A Cappella Choir and won a scholarship to Julliard School of Music. Although she declined to use the award, she never lost her love of classical music, opera and theater — an interest she passed on to her younger siblings. She was also a drum majorette with the high school band and then taught others twirling and strutting.

After high school Gale went to New York in search of a career. She found many: waitressing, then hat check girl/photographer in the clubs El Morocco, The Latin Quarter, The Stork Club, The Blue Angel. During World War II she joined a U.S.O. group entertaining our troops in shows. Strikingly beautiful, she turned to a modeling career; first for the garment district, then a wedding gown house where she eventually became a designer with her own label. She moved on to becoming a professional photographer’s model, walked the runways in fashion shows and appeared in television ads. Fashion was an interest of hers for life and it also left her with the notion “one can never be too thin.” She met D.J. Brown at his beauty salon in the Plaza Hotel and they fell in love. They had a daughter together, Ardis (Pyxe) Brown, her only child.

When Gale moved back to Woodstock her life changed dramatically. One ride in a single engine plane was the beginning of her great love of flying and of her true career. Within a short period of time she received her commercial license. She became a charter pilot and an instructor and flew fire watches all over Overlook Mountain and beyond. She joined the women’s pilots organization club, the 99s, participated the Powder Puff Derbies in races, and once ferried a plane as co-pilot to Nairobi, Africa. She won a contest for helicopter flying and became a member of The Whirley Girls and flew helicopters as well. To enhance her income she also turned to real estate and became a real estate associate broker. She was very successfully in this capacity, unfailingly honest and won many of the company’s highest awards.

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