Featured Story

Shelter Island Reporter Obituary: Phyllis Mack Gillespie

Phyllis Mack Gillespie of Longboat Key, Fla. and Shelter Island, died on March 24, 2023.

Phyllis was born in March 1940 in Jackson Heights, New York, to Lincoln and Frances Bryan Mack and raised in Flushing. Growing up, she spent many weekends on Shelter Island and enjoyed visiting her grandmother and extended family in North Carolina. She graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing from St. Joseph College in Emmitsburg, Md. in 1961.

On June 24, 1961, just a few weeks after graduating from college, Phyllis married Bernie Gillespie. They then immediately headed for Twentynine Palms, Calif. where their first child, Michael was born in 1962. They moved to Notre Dame for Bernie to get his PhD where Ellen (1963) and John (1964) were born.

After completing his doctorate, Bernie and Phyllis moved to Glassboro, N.J. Sons Stephen arrived in 1967 and Paul in 1971. PTA, Cub Scout Den Mother, and other volunteer work, not to mention mothering five children, with only 10 years separating oldest to youngest, kept Phyllis busy.

When Paul began school, Phyllis decided she either needed to get a job or have another baby. Bernie had her hired by the weekend. She wanted to use her nurse’s training and she found a job in the one area that motherhood had kept her current in — psychiatric nursing. She started shift work (midnight shift) at Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia. 

Over the next two decades Bernie and Phyllis lived in Katonah, N.Y., Yardley, Penn., Sudbury, Mass., and Moorestown, N.J. As her children went off to college, Phyllis became more involved with volunteering, including Hospice and with Samaritans of Framingham, Mass.

In 1995 Bernie joined Marshall University in Huntington, W.Va. Phyllis and Bernie enjoyed their years in West Virginia; Phyllis took up walking and hiking, eventually completing 1,700 miles of the Appalachian Trail.

In 2001, Phyllis and Bernie rebuilt the family home on their property on Shelter Island. Once Bernie retired from Marshall in 2006, he and Phyllis took up full-time residence on the Island. Never ones to let grass grow under their feet, Phyllis and Bernie kept busy with volunteer work and hobbies. 

Phyllis and Bernie volunteered with the Senior Nutrition Program (delivering Meals on Wheels), the Shelter Island Historical Society, Our Lady of the Isle Church, as well as many ad hoc requests for their talents.

Hosting players from the Shelter Island Bucks baseball team, biennial reunions of Phyllis’ college classmates and Bernie’s high school classmates, as well as get-togethers of Phyllis’ extended family group and the occasional family wedding, kept boredom at bay. Phyllis was also active with the Shelter Island Garden Club and Red Hat Society and enjoyed playing bridge.

After a few winters of visiting Longboat Key, Fla., Bernie and Phyllis purchased a condo and became Florida residents. Phyllis loved living on the water. She enjoyed walking, the swimming pool, playing mahjong and visiting with many of their friends in the area. Phyllis was a top-notch hostess and was known for her cooking and baking. 

An avid traveler, she visited all 50 states and 20 foreign countries. Her recent travels included trips to Iceland, Egypt, Peru, Indonesia, and an African Safari.

After nearly 58 years of marriage, Phyllis lost the love her life, Bernie, in 2019. Phyllis was most proud of her family; daughter Ellen Cathcart; sons Michael (Patti); John (Sandy); Stephen (Karen); Paul (Michelle), as well as her 10 grandchildren and current resident pet Wilbur — all of whom survive her. She is also survived by her younger brother, Thomas Mack, along with numerous cousins, nieces, nephews, and extended family.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that anyone so inclined make a memorial contribution to the Shelter Island Senior Nutrition Program (PO Box 970, Shelter Island, NY 11964), the Shelter Island Historical Society (P.O. Box 847, Shelter Island, NY 11964), or to a charity of your choice.

Funeral arrangements are: Funeral Mass at Our Lady of the Isle Church, Saturday, May 20 at 10:30 a.m., with burial to follow at Our Lady of the Isle Cemetery.