Paul A. Speeches of Baldwin Road, one of the last of his generation to be born on Shelter Island, passed away peacefully at home on December 28.
The youngest of seven brothers and sisters, Paul was born to Charles and Adele Speeches in 1932 in the family farmhouse, “Beauty View,” that still stands on Manwaring Road.
According to the family, Paul’s parents were hard working farmers, harvesting fruits and vegetables and rows of cutting flowers that were sold to Birdseye and at the family farmstand. All seven children worked on the 26-acre farm.
After high school, Paul enlisted in the U.S. Navy. His ship, the USS Oriskany was the first aircraft carrier to sail completely around the tip of South America. During his four years in the Navy he visited ports in Japan, Korea, China and South America.
At a port in San Francisco, a young Doris Day was shooting a movie. During a break, Paul asked if she would join him and his friend for breakfast. Surprisingly, she obliged. Years later Paul’s son, Tom, wrote to her in California to see if she remembered the meeting with his father. She acknowledged the occasion and responded with a personal note to Paul, along with a signed photograph that Paul cherished for many years.
In the Navy, Paul’s interest gravitated to anything mechanical, electrical, and aeronautical, interests he would pursue throughout his life.
Paul returned to the Island when he was 22, after serving in the Korean conflict.
Several years later he was set up on a blind date by his friends, Bobby and Sue Clark, and met his future wife, Eileen Neville.
In 1955 they were married in Eileen’s hometown of Williston Park. They lived in Farmingdale where Paul took a job with the Republic Aviation Company. For a little over a year he built compressors for the Atomic Energy Commission.
As soon as he could, his family said, he took Eileen back to Shelter Island. “Oh, I knew I was coming back one way or three” Paul said time and time again. “Country boy, it’s in your blood.”
Over the years, Paul had many jobs and loved every one of them, his family remembered. He was never out of work.
Paul worked for L. C. McGayhey Plumbing Company and was one of two police constables on the Island.
During his four years with the police department he described the Island as “gorgeous and quiet. In those days you would help someone instead of arresting them, that was just the way it was.”
Paul also worked as superintendent at Westmoreland Farms for James and Margaret Roe, where the Speeches family lived happily for many years. In addition Paul worked for Grumman Aerospace, making parts for the lunar excursion module at the Sag Harbor factory, and also worked for South Ferry.
In addition, Paul worked for the Shelter Island Highway Department for over 23 years, responsible for maintenance in and out of the shop. He happily plowed snow and often spoke on how beautiful his Island was after a fresh snowfall. Paul retired from the department in 1994.
Among his list of hobbies was a love of automobiles. In 2005, he found a disheveled body of a 1926 Model T in the backyard of a Southampton home. Within a year he purchased and meticulously restored the Ford to museum quality with the help of Freddie Ogar.
The car would carry many brides and grooms on their wedding days, and now resides at the Shelter Island car museum.
Paul also began flying planes. Instead of buying one, decided to build one.
He bought a derelict Aeronca 7AC Champ and Frankie Klen helped to restore the two-seater to mint condition. He named the plane “Paul’s Dream.”
Paul and Eileen would fly the plane all over the East End, Connecticut and Martha’s Vineyard, his family said.
Friends and family remember one winter’s day when he and Bobby Clark, decided to take a spin around the Island in the plane.
Just as they reached Hay Beach, the engine froze and Paul guided the plane back to Klenawicus Field with nothing propelling the craft but the wind underneath the wings. Trying to avoid the kids skating on Lily Pond, Paul maneuvered his way to the airstrip. When he attempted to land, the cold air kept the plane from touching the ground. By this time Paul would recall, Bobby, was “white as a ghost.”
Twirling like a kite in the air, Paul finally managed to set his plane down after a number of spins and drops, with spectators applauding. “It was dangerous” Paul admitted later to his family. “But it was fun.”
The wind also propelled Paul’s homemade iceboat winter after winter on Coecles Harbor with other Island ice boaters who also enjoyed the sport.
Paul was a true Harelegger, his family said, who could tell enough stories to fill a book. He even claimed to know the “original” meaning behind the term that describes Island-born residents.
For 70 cents, he and friends could go round-trip on the North Ferry and watch a movie in Greenport.
Unfortunately, the ferry stopped at 11 p.m. and if a movie went longer, Islanders could be seen running like “Texas jack rabbits” to catch the last boat. Paul said he wasn’t sure if the ferrymen or Greenport residents provided the nickname but he was sure that this was how the term “Harelegger” came to be.
Whether you knew Paul for 50 years or five minutes, his family said, you couldn’t escape the charm and wit of this Island icon. He has contributed more than he was willing to admit to the place he always called home.
Paul’s wife, Eileen, pre-deceased him in 2003. He is survived by his three children; Kathleen Sullivan, Thomas P. Speeches and Debra Speeches; sons-in-law Ted Sullivan and Robert Westover; grandchildren Brandi, Hap, Catherine and Emma Bowditch, Tanya and Jeremy Schmid and four great-grandchildren. Also survivng are Tracy Bowditch and Thomas Johnston.
A Mass of Christian Burial at Our Lady of the Isle Roman Catholic Church was celebrated on December 31 by Father Peter DeSanctis, Paul’s friend for over 40 years.
Interment followed at the Speeches family plot at Our Lady of the Isle Cemetery.
The family requests that donations be made to the Shelter Island Ambulance Foundation, P.O. Box 547, Shelter Island, NY 11964 or the American Legion Mitchell Post 281, P.O Box 2021, Shelter Island, NY 11964.