The Way We Were: John and Patsy Gaillard

The Way We Were: John and Patsy Gaillard
Wedding Day, June 26, 1965

The Northeast Florida roots of Jack Gaillard’s family are deep, extending from Springfield to Riverside to Ortega, where the most recent three of eight Gaillard generations make their home.

Sixth-generation Northeast Florida native John “Jack” Gaillard, was born in Riverside in 1934, but his family home was on Princeton Avenue in Ortega. Both his parents, Henry and Martha, were 1930 graduates of Lee High School, and Henry owned a building supply company and later worked for Bond-Howell Building Supplies in Jacksonville.

Gaillard attended Ortega Elementary, Lakeshore Junior High School and was a 1952 Lee High School graduate. He and his three brothers, Samuel, James and Richard, attended Riverside Presbyterian Church where their parents were members for 70 years. Growing up, Gaillard also spent a great deal of time at the home of his grandparents, John and Ellen Gaillard, in the historic St. Johns Quarter, one block from the river.

Gaillard graduated from the University of Florida and then attended UF Law School, taking a year off to teach geography at Lakeshore Junior High. He met Patsy in 1963 when they were introduced by their mutual friend, well-known artist Cleve Miller, who was also on the Lakeshore faculty at the same time Patsy taught Spanish and geography there.

Jack and Patsy Gaillard, 2015, at Riverside Presbyterian Church

Jack and Patsy Gaillard, 2015, at Riverside Presbyterian Church

Patsy, whose maiden name was Eskew, hailed from Spartanburg, South Carolina, and had never visited Florida until she came to Jacksonville in 1963 as a Salem College senior. She was on spring break with several classmates who hoped to find teaching jobs in Jacksonville. She and seven of her friends interviewed at Annie Lytle Elementary School on Gilmore Street and were hired as teachers.

“After our graduation all eight of us moved to Jacksonville to take our teaching jobs. My girlfriends eventually returned to North Carolina and married there. I had met John and was the only one who remained in Jacksonville,” Patsy said. 

The Gaillards were married in Spartanburg on June 26, 1965 by their friend Father Robert Johnson. He was the priest of St. Martin’s in the Highlands (now part of St. Elizabeth’s Episcopal Church) in Jacksonville. Johnson was Jack’s Lee High School classmate and University of Florida fraternity brother.

After their wedding the couple settled in Jacksonville and lived at 2810 Grand Avenue in Ortega. After the birth of their second child in 1968 the Gaillard’s growing family needed more space and began to search for a larger home.

“Jack had attended school with the children of a realtor friend, Florida Lord. She and her husband, Morton, owned Lord’s Gift Shop in the shops of Avondale and lived nearby with their children when Jack was growing up,” the couple recalled. “We told her we needed a bigger house and we were most interested in two areas, McGirts Boulevard from Shawnee Street or Harvard Street, or from McGirts Boulevard to the river. Florida went knocking door-to-door to find someone interested in selling their home to us.”

Lord’s persistence paid off and the Gaillards moved to their riverfront home at 4396 McGirts Blvd. and lived there for 32 years.

“We bought our McGirts home from the Leighton family who originally built it,” said the Gaillards. “We hired the late architect Carl Garlington to design an enlarged kitchen, two more bedrooms and bathrooms. We also converted the garage into a versatile playroom/river room.”

By 2000 the Gaillards were ready to downsize and moved to Ortega Forest where they have lived for the past 16 years.

After graduating from Law School, Gaillard worked in the Florida State Attorney’s Office for six years. He also served as general counsel for the Florida State Board of Health four years and for Stockton, Whatley, Davin & Co. He was employed at the Florida Times-Union as Vice President of Legal & Public Affairs for seven years and maintained his own private law practice. He also taught introductory law classes at Jacksonville University and at St. Johns River Community College. He is currently semi-retired from private law practice after 55 years.

Gaillard remains proud of his participation in citizen groups that helped shape Jacksonville. He worked with the group that coordinated with Florida legislators to write the Charter for the Consolidation of Jacksonville and Duval County, finalized in 1968. He worked closely with James “Jim” Rinaman and Tracy E. Danese on the consolidation effort.

Gaillard children in 1986: Brice (currently a writer in New York), Scott (a Riverside resident who works in the finance and legal fields) and Rachel (in the computer software field, lives in Ortega)

Gaillard children in 1986: Brice (currently a writer in New York), Scott (a Riverside resident who works in the finance and legal fields) and Rachel (in the computer software field, lives in Ortega)

Gaillard also was part of the group that brought cable television to Jacksonville. The protracted negotiations were conducted by prominent local businessmen, among them Jack Demetree, William “Bill” Gay, Claude Yeats and Harold K. “Bud” Smith.

In the 1970s, while he worked as legal counsel for the Florida Times-Union, Gaillard occasionally wrote articles for the newspaper. One of his favorite memories was his interview with elderly, retired Dr. Edward Jelks who lived on Riverside Avenue. Dr. Jelks was one of the three original physicians who bought Riverside Hospital, expanded it greatly and formed one of the nation’s first group medical practices.

“I greatly respected Dr. Jelks and his contributions to our area and when I interviewed him I used a tape recorder. One day while working at the Times-Union building I looked up to see Dr. Jelks in the doorway, holding the tape recorder that I had forgotten,” said Gaillard. “He had personally brought it to me on one of the coldest days I can remember in Jacksonville. He was a remarkable man to the end of his life.”

The Gaillards were members of Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd where Jack served in the vestry. In the early 1990s he was part of the committee that arranged for restoration of the church’s historic 1929 E.M. Skinner pipe organ. He was among the original group that worked for the creation of Riverside Fine Arts Series, served as its legal counsel and as president. He recalls how wonderful it was when the series brought international artists, including Joshua Bell, John Williams, The King’s Singers and Preservation Hall Jazz Band, to Jacksonville.

The Gaillards love cultural arts and music. One of Jack’s favorite assignments while he worked for the Florida Times-Union was helping to schedule guest musical artists, groups and bands for concerts. He scheduled concerts first at the Civic Auditorium and continued when it became the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts. Gaillard recalls arranging memorable concerts by the Atlanta Symphony with Robert Shaw (the renowned choral conductor), Ray Charles, and the George Shearing Quintet.

In the early 1908s Gaillard supported the formation of the St. Johns River City Band and helped to schedule Dave Brubeck and Dizzy Gillespie for performances with them.

Gaillard has been active in many community organizations, especially those focused on mental health issues. He served as president of the Mental Health Center in Riverside and of the local and state Mental Health Association. He also served as president of the Cultural Council and of the Jacksonville Art Museum when it was located at the Koger Center. He was a member of the Florida Arts Council.

The Gaillards are now members of Riverside Presbyterian Church, where Jack is happy to see friends on Sundays, particularly his dear friend and mentor, Dr. Richard Skinner. Gaillard calls Dr. Skinner one of the great men in Jacksonville history, whose civic contributions greatly influenced his own life.

Gaillard grandchildren, Benjamin and Julia Sandlin

Gaillard grandchildren, Benjamin and Julia Sandlin

The couple enjoy delivering Meals on Wheels, which they have done together for the past 15 years. Jack has volunteered in many capacities at Daniel Kids for more than 50 years, and served as chairman of the board.

Patsy has also been an active volunteer. She has been a member of the Jacksonville Garden Club for at least 50 years, served as president and is currently club chaplain.

Although Patsy denies having a green thumb or doing much except pulling weeds in their yard, her husband declares that something lovely is always blooming. He also describes his wife as a wonderful mother and grandmother. He gladly serves as her taste tester when she cooks or bakes new recipes, another of her many talents, he said.

Jack occasionally pulls out his banjo and woefully regrets that three piano teachers all failed to teach him to play the piano. The couple love time spent with their family and dote on their cat, Sophie, short for “so ferocious.” They have absolutely no intention of returning Sophie to her true owner, their son Scott, despite her bad reputation.

Jack and Patsy, 75, lived most of their married life in Ortega and for the last 16 years in Ortega Forest. The couple celebrated their 51st wedding anniversary this past summer.

By Julie Kerns Garmendia
Resident Community News

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