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.
While piloting a woman with breast cancer, she heard of an organization called Hospice. It so impressed her that she brought the idea to Sister Mary Charles of the Benedictine Hospital. Between them they managed to bring the first Hospice to Kingston. Then Gale decided that a heliport would be instrumental in saving lives in the area and brought that idea to Sister Mary Charles as well. “Raise the money,” Sister Mary Charles replied, “and I will support that.” And Gale, as chairman of the Helipad Fund and with the great help from donors of every manner she mustered, did just that. The heliport opened in May of 1971, and was named in honor of her grandfather, Dr. Mortimer Byron Downer. When, in 1975, Central Hudson proposed, as historian Alf Evers wrote in his book Kingston — City on the Hudson, “building a coal fueled power plant with tall smokestacks to dispose of its polluting fumes,” Miss Brownlee flew over the area with her camera and took photographs.” These aerial photos (another of her passions), showed another proof of the impact on the city (she also brought one share of stock and went to all the meetings with her findings), and, as Alf wrote, “aroused the public enough to stop the project.”
She had the idea for a mounted policeman for Woodstock and again was urged to raise the money for the project, the horse and its upkeep, which she did.
A lifelong Democrat, she was deeply interested in her beloved Woodstock town affairs and faithfully attended board meetings. Among other volunteer projects she was on the committee for the Alf Evers Volunteer of the Year awards. Nothing she did was ever flaunted. She did it because it was right to do.
Gale Brownlee was a dauntless, brave person with an indomitable spirit. “There was nobody like her” is what is most heard. She was sometimes irascible (a bitch on wheels some said, almost admiring), but again, a diplomat, wise and kind. She had an aura about her; heads turned, waiters bowed, men flirted and women admired her. She loved her family and her companion of 43 years Billy Salvucci who predeceased her. She always went to funerals and placed flowers on graves of all family members and friends. She was a friend to animals, particularly her cats.
No one could be more loyal, honest or generous. She was an enormous presence in all of our lives — our combined families of Downers, Feeleys, Cantines (Alex, Peter, Rennie), Browns (Elspeth), will miss her forever.
She is survived by her daughter Ardis (Pyxe) Brown; her sisters Pam Marvin and Ellen Katz; her brother James Feeley and his wife; an aunt, Carole Downer; cousins Faith Goetz Brune and her husband; a cousin Donald Downer; her niece Mara Katz and nephew Jason Katz; nieces Wendy King, Maury Moore, Kerry Griffin and nephew Rod McLeod; great nieces and nephews Ashley and Bridget Garrison, Morgan and Ian McLeod, Jess, John and Pamela King, Trevor and Emily Herdman, Robert Raymond and Whitney Maize, and Amelia and Alex Rustaey as well as Great Great nieces and nephews Caitlyn Lee Bennett, Lola and Ella King, Zane and Lily King, and Damion, Angel, Justice and Jameer Maize.
Calling hours will be from 4 to 8 p.m. at The Lasher Funeral Home in Woodstock on Friday November 2. The memorial service will be held there on Saturday November 3 at 11 a.m.
In Lieu of flowers, a donation to the Woodstock Ambulance Squad or the Woodstock Fire Company would be deeply appreciated.