Blogs > Jim Collins' Editor's Notebook

Jim Collins is editor emeritus of The News-Herald and also serves as executive in residence at Lakeland Community College. His popular weekly column appears each Sunday in Comment in The News-Herald.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

We should all be so fortunate as the Pallisters

The passing of both Hugh and Gretta Pallister within the short span of only seven months represents the end of an Era – perhaps an Epoch — in Willoughby.

For never, within my memory at least, have two people of such stature and magnitude so dominated everything that was good, decent and worthwhile about the city (and before that the village) that they loved so much and served with such distinction and dedication.

Both lived long, remarkable lives. Hugh was 100 at his passing last September and Gretta was 96 when she left us just last month.

For decade after decade, they were ubiquitous. It was impossible to attend any kind of civic event without seeing both of them.

And they weren’t behind the scenes. They were right out front, leading the parade, as it were, cheerleaders for everything that was worth doing.

Their belief was that if it was worth doing, it was worth doing well.

I considered both Hugh and Gretta good friends, and I thought I knew them pretty well. But I take a back seat to the orators who spoke at both of their services at the Willoughby United Methodist Church.

During those memorable services, I found out how little I really knew about these two wonderful citizens.

And, like so many good people of their ilk, they did it all without pay – unless you consider the nearly three decades Hugh served on City Council as a paying job.

That’s one job people don’t perform for the meager money it pays. They do it for love.

Gretta was born on River Street, where she and Hugh lived for all those years, amid a conclave of friends as close as the paper on the wall.

Let’s see, there were John and Georgia Nelson and Dan and Carol Fishwick and I don’t know who else, but they gave a new definition to “good neighbors.”

Gretta’s obituary in the paper was so eloquent and touching that I firmly believe it was written by Dan Fishwick. For example:

“Born on the first day of spring, 1918, on River Street in Willoughby, Gretta walked in the footsteps of her father, noted photographer and naturalist C.M. Shipman.”

We should all have a send-off by a biographer so talented.

I can’t begin to recite all of their myriad involvements, but you couldn’t mention the Burroughs Nature Club, the Heart of Willoughby, Gully Brook or anything having to do with nature, conservancy or the great outdoors without thinking of Hugh and Gretta.

It seems as if they took on the identity of everything in which they were involved.

The fact that both lived such long lives and that Gretta outlived Hugh by only half a year tells me that there was a grand design for their lives and that few are so fortunate as to know as much love – for each other and for all their many interests.

I am not certain whether they ever had a disagreement, but I know firsthand of some issues on which they had not only total agreement, but also an ability to persuade others that their view was the correct one.

I need only cite their service on the Distinguished Citizen Committee of the Chamber of Commerce. Its focus has now changed to honor business people only, but for decades the committee consisted of 10 members all of whom were former recipients of the award.

I was chairman of that committee for ages, and I got to hand-pick the committee every year. I always chose Hugh and Gretta, along with Bob Riggin, Terry Coleman, John Tigue, Bill Crosier, Father Francis Curran, Jerry Merhar, Suzanne Jackson and, I believe, John Muranko.

The Pallisters always voted of one mind. One might suspect they had discussed the matter in advance – and at some length.

One year (2005) they came primed to nominate Don and Pat Lewis for the honor. There was another faction equally determined to choose Dan Hart.

The discussion went on and on. I think it carried over into another meeting. They were all fine candidates.
All  I tried to do was moderate the discussion and keep it on track.

In the end, common sense prevailed. We honored both the Lewises and Dan Hart. Hugh and Gretta were happy, everyone else was happy, and one and all considered it a job well done.

I am not good at mind-reading, but I would wager a farthing or two that when Hugh spoke at City Council meetings, somewhere in the background were lurking the thoughts of Gretta.

And why not? Just as with the “distinguished” award, they thought alike.

At a time when retired Municipal Court Judge Larry Allen was city law director, he drafted legislation defining the city’s Historic District. He termed the main drag “Buffalo Road.” Hugh and Gretta were amused – barely. Hugh was on council at the time.

As you well know, the name Buffalo Road never caught on. Perhaps we can thank Hugh and Gretta for that. Larry didn’t mind a bit.



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