Gary Lillis always seemed to be playing pranks on others.
During Tom Taylor’s first year teaching at Greenport High School, for instance, Mr. Lillis convinced him the building’s business office was handing out free turkeys to teachers for Thanksgiving.
“I believed him and I went down to the office,” Mr. Taylor recalled Tuesday. “Once down there, I got nothing. They laughed at me — of course they did.”
It was one of the first memories that came to mind when Mr. Taylor was asked about Mr. Lillis, a Greenport native who died Feb. 3. He was 69.
“He was a true friend of mine and a great, great teacher,” Mr. Taylor said. “He was one of the friendliest people I’ve ever met … He loved to have fun.”
Mr. Lillis taught seventh- and eighth-grade science and health for more than three decades in the Greenport School District. He was also a longtime driver’s education instructor for the Greenport and Southold school districts and coached junior high baseball and softball in both districts, said his daughter, Rebecca.
Although Ms. Lillis never had her father as a coach while growing up, he sat on the sidelines and offered advice two years ago when she began coaching softball in Greenport School, where she also coaches field hockey. Today, she’s coaching girls whose parents were mentored by her dad.
As a teacher, she said, her father made sure to instill important life lessons in his students, like always being kind, genuinely good and patient with others.
“He was a very kind and generous person,” Ms. Lillis said. “I don’t think he ever had a bad word to say about anyone. I never heard him say anything bad about anybody.”
In addition to teaching, her father loved his alma mater, Clemson University — so much so that he owned a second home in South Carolina.
In fact, she said, one family tradition entailed traveling to Clemson for football games. In his later years, as his health declined, Mr. Lillis still made an effort to attend every game.
“That was something that he loved more than anything else, the Clemson Tigers,” Ms. Lillis said. “I said this at the funeral: [The Tigers] won the national champs game this year. It was a gift to the most loyal fan, their win at the national game.”
Mr. Lillis’ oldest son, Gary Jr., lives near Clemson, while his two other children, Daniel and Ms. Lillis, reside on the North Fork. Mr. Lillis is also survived by three — soon to be five — grandchildren.
“I’ll miss his smile and his kindness toward others,” his daughter said. “He was pretty much my best friend, so I’ll miss my best friend. I know his legacy definitely lives on between the three of us. He has lots of grandchildren and he left a legacy with his students, so he’ll always be around us in that aspect. But I think I’ll miss my father’s kind, caring soul the most.”
Photo caption: Gary Lillis, a longtime science and health teacher, died Feb. 3. (Credit: Courtesy photo)