Paul A. Speeches of Baldwin Road, one of the last of his generation to be born on “his” Shelter Island, passed away peacefully at home on Dec. 28, 2015.
The youngest of seven brothers and sisters, Paul was born to Charles and Adele Speeches in 1932 in the family farmhouse, “Beauty View,” which still stands today on Manwaring Road.
Paul’s parents were hardworking farmers, harvesting fruits and vegetables, an array of seasonal produce and rows of cutting flowers that were sold to Birdseye and at the family farm stand. All of the 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 “good years” with 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, a bold Paul asked if she would join him and his friend for breakfast. Surprisingly, she obliged. Years later, Paul’s son Tom wrote to Miss Day 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. He would pursue these interests throughout his life.
Paul returned to his “beautiful island” when he was 22 after being involved in the Korean conflict. Several years later he was set up on a blind date with 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 Republic Aviation Company. For a little over a year he built compressors for the Atomic Energy Commission.
As soon as he could, he took Eileen back to Shelter Island. “Oh, I knew I was coming back one way or three,” Paul had 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. He was never out of work because someone would always tell him there was a job waiting for him. He worked for L. C. McGayhey Plumbing Company and was one of two police constables on the island.
During his four years on the police force, 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.
For over 23 years Paul worked for the Shelter Island Highway Department. He was responsible for every kind of maintenance in and out of the shop. He happily plowed snow and often spoke of how beautiful his island was after a fresh snowfall. Paul retired from the department in 1994.
Among Paul’s list of hobbies was his love of automobiles. In 2005 he found a disheveled body of a 1926 Model T in the backyard of a Southampton resident’s home. Within the year he purchased and meticulously restored the Ford, with the help of Freddie Ogar, to museum quality. At their request, the car would carry many brides and grooms on their wedding day. The car now resides at the Shelter Island car museum.
Paul also began the “very expensive” hobby of flying planes. He had almost bought a plane in Florida when, applying his better judgment, he opted to build one instead.
He bought a derelict Aeronca 7AC Champ he found on the North Fork. Paul took the wings off and trucked it over to the island, where 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 of Long Island, Connecticut and Martha’s Vineyard, enjoying every moment and savoring the views of the island from the air.
On a brisk winter’s day, Paul and his friend Bobby Clark decided to take a spin around the island in “The Dream.”
Just as they reached Hay Beach, the engine froze up. Paul worked to guide the plane back to Klenawicus Field with nothing propelling the craft but the wind underneath. 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 Bobby was “white as a ghost” and Paul grew nervous. Twirling like a kite in the air, Paul finally managed to set his plane down. After a slew of spins and drops, spectators applauded Paul’s landing. “It was dangerous,” Paul admitted later, “but it was fun.”
The wind also propelled Paul’s homemade iceboat winter after winter on a frozen Coecles Harbor with other island iceboaters who also enjoyed the sport.
Paul Speeches was a true “harelegger” 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 his 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 jackrabbits” to catch the last boat. Paul wasn’t sure if the chuckling 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, you could not escape the charm and wit of this Shelter Island icon. He has contributed more than he was willing to admit to a place he always called home.
Paul’s wife, Eileen, predeceased him in 2003. He is survived by his three children, Kathleen Sullivan, Thomas P. Speeches and Debra Speeches; his sons-in-law, Ted Sullivan and Robert Westover; his grandchildren, Brandi, Hap and his wife, Tracy, Catherine Bowditch (Thomas Johnston) and Emma Bowditch, and Tanya and Jeremy Schmid; his great-grandchildren, Isabel, Riley, Aiden Bowditch and Thomas Bowditch-Johnston.
The burial service at Our Lady of the Isle R.C. Church on Shelter Island was concelebrated Dec. 31 by Paul’s friend of over 40 years, Father Peter DeSanctis. Interment followed at the Speeches family plot at Our Lady of the Isle Cemetery.
The family requests that donations in the memory of Paul 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.
This is a paid notice.