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Trailblazer Shirley Gillette Was Devoted to Community

Recent passing of 41-year Long Valley resident spurs memories from friends and family.

They were trail blazers, albeit on different landscapes.

The late George M. Gillette, Jr., who once served as the Chairman of the Morris County Park Commission, fought for a trail in the center of Long Valley which now bears his name.

His wife, Shirley Gillette, passed away on July 26 at her home of 41 years on top of Schooley’s Mountain, and in her own strong and forthright way, blazed a trail for women by earning her master’s degree at a time when only a small circle of women attended institutions of higher learning, and worked as one of the early pioneers in public television.

Those who knew her best recall her strength, her love of learning, travel, and an indomitable zest for life.

“She was a force to be reckoned with and she was a wonderful role model for me. To see her go into New York and work in pubic television when I was growing up–was an inspiration,” said Michelle Mellon, Gillette's step-daughter and resident of Clearwater, Florida.

“She wasn’t out there burning her undergarments, she was out there involved and active in the world–she was living it," said Mellon. 

Mellon said Gillette was the perfect partner for her father because they were both community leaders.   

“Shirley always loved my daughter’s antics and they were intrigued by their grandmother from the north,” said son Terry Gillette, a resident of Melbourne Beach, Florida.

“She was very positive and interested in so many things. She was an inspiration,” said Millicent Palmer, a good friend and member of the Long Valley Women’s Club.

“Even during her illness, she showed great courage and strength. She never complained, she was always looking ahead–even to her very last day,” said Palmer.  

Gillette was very active in Washington Township and served as a volunteer on the Washington Township Historical Society, Trustee of the Washington Township Land Trust, and in a number of capacities with the Long Valley Women's Club.

Since 1990, she served as treasurer, president, and secretary for the club. She also served as Deputy Vice President and Legislative Chair for the State Federation of New Jersey Women’s Clubs, as well as the By-Laws Chairman.

“In addition to serving as a Trustee for the Land Trust from 2001 to 2009, Shirley supported our projects–both land preservation and the mill restoration. Although she was quiet in the meetings, when she had something to say, she said it,” said Chris Stefan, a member of the Washington Township Land Trust. 

Under Gillette’s direction, the Long Valley Women’s Club implemented a new way to run the annual antique show so that it was community supported and more of the proceeds would go toward scholarship funds, according to Susan Hoekstra, former president of the Long Valley’s Women’s Club.

“She was always the voice of reason, very calm, thoughtful and businesslike,” said Hoekstra, who helped Gillette during the last year.

“We made sure that she was never alone, always had a ride if she needed one, and brought her dinner every Monday night for the last year,” said Hoekstra.

"Shirley was one of the most valuable members in our women's club. She always provided sage advice," said Joan Canonico, President of the Long Valley Women's Club since April 2010. 

Canonico said Gillette served as a mentor to her and a liaison between the local club and the New Jersey State Federation of Women's Clubs.

"As a new president I looked to Shirley for guidance, which she always gave me. She was a great asset to the club and she will be sorely missed," said Canonico.

Hoekstra said Gillette was also instrumental in getting an aquarium installed at Hackettstown Hospital so that patients could enjoy the tranquility.

Born in Pontiac, Illinois, Gillette earned a bachelors degree at the University of Illinois in 1956, and was a member of Phi Delta Psi and Alpha Omega Pi. She worked as a high school speech and drama teacher for ten years in Manhasset, NY.

In 1965, Gillette earned a master’s degree at New York University and enjoyed a 23 year career in public television working for WNET – Channel 13 in New York City serving as the director of educational programming.

According to Palmer, Gillette was instrumental in launching the program ‘Thomas the Tank Engine,’ a program for children that features a blue engine who always sports a smile.

“Grounded, a natural leader, a doer, a devoted member of the community,” are the words that spring to mind for Long Valley resident Jim Fitterer, when he recalls Shirley Gillette.

He said, “She was also well traveled, a good listener, a problem solver, and had a great sense of humor.”

“She was a very strong woman who kept up with everything. She was always engaged in research, loved politics and was very outgoing,” said Long Valley resident Martha Day, who was a former President of the Long Valley Women’s Club.

“She also had a great deal of class, and hosted great parties,” said Day.

Hoekstra echoed the sentiments of Gillette’s friends, saying, “Shirley enjoyed life and she enjoyed people. She loved to travel and for her, there was always something new around the corner.”

Shirley Gillette is survived by her daughter, Michele Mellon; son, Terry Gillette; granddaughters, Erin Carey, Georgia and Paige Gillette, all of Florida; niece, Catherine Fetzner of Michigan; nephews, Brad and William Ulfig of Illinois.  

Gillette’s 17 year old dog, Rufus, will be retiring to Florida with the family, according to Michelle Mellon.

A memorial service will be held on Sunday, Aug. 21, at 1 p.m. at the Schooley's Mountain Lodge, located at 54 Camp Washington Road, Long Valley, NJ 07853, with a celebration of her life to follow.

Eileen Stokes August 16, 2011 at 03:30 PM
I met Shirley and George through their community involvement. Gracious, soft-spoken, appreciative, a do-er not a complainer, all come to mind. She will be sadly missed as has her husband George. She was behind many of our community projects such as the meditation garden at Schooley's Mountain Park.
Team Casper August 16, 2011 at 06:25 PM
Delightful Lady - sorry to see her go. I remember the New Years Day gatherings at their house.
Erma Flynn January 10, 2012 at 02:57 AM
I met Shirley through the LV Women's Club. She was a cheerful and capable leader and I know that she will surely be missed.

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