At the end of July, we lost a hero, a mentor and a friend to many. Robert ‘Stretch’ Gillam was the personification of the English idiom “hail fellow, well met.” Stretch’s passing, at the age of 82, happened after a short illness according to Mike Wall, a Quechee Club golf cart operation and peer of Stretch’s.
Mike says as soon as he met Stretch he “felt like I knew him all my life.” Stretch, as is Mike, was a proud Yankee fan. They had a great time joshing with the mostly Boston Red Sox-centric Quechee Club members. Now Mike has to double his efforts in criticizing the Red Sox’s. Before the pre-world series games; especially the Yankees versus the Red Sox on October 11, and then the just-as-crucial game with the Dodgers, Mike threw his hands toward the heavens and asked Stretch to sign in for a win.
Condolences posted from family, friends, former athletes, and many Quechee Club members on the Knight Funeral Home’s web page for Stretch are a testament to the kind of person and the impact that he made on this community. Comments like, “Stretch was such a joy to start our day,” and, “It’s obvious he loved people,” capture the essence of who he was: an affable, congenial man.
Pat Pelletier, a Quechee golf employee, and golfer says he knew Stretch when he worked at Lake Morey Resort in Fairlee, VT, and Stretch came to play golf there twice a week. “He seemed to know everyone. I heard the name ‘Stretch’ and ‘Coach’ everywhere about the club. Then when I came to Quechee, I couldn’t believe how many people he knew.”
Mickey Spencer, a longtime Quechee Club employee who manages the driving range knew Stretch from living in the Upper Valley for years. “He was a great coach, especially with the kids. He got results.” Stretch learned the coaching trade early on at a Dartmouth College Basketball training program with Alvin “Doggie” Julian whose keys to mastering coaching were: new tricks on old basics and the generation of great, sustaining spirit. Open to knowledge, especially about sports; Stretch took it all in from those he respected.
Stretch touched many more lives in his long career as a coach, athlete, chef, restaurant owner, family man, and friend. When I interviewed him for an earlier issue of the Quechee Times, I heard his life story. One thing sang out: he was always able to “make it.” He relentlessly coached – mostly basketball. And he started restaurants.
In his hometown of Rutland, Vermont, Stretch played basketball at Mount St. Joseph High School. He was tall – six feet, four inches; he was good; he was confident. As a senior in high school, he tried out for the semi-professional league called the Rutland Commons and played. Only into the season did the coach find out he was a high school kid. Since he did not get paid, the coach ignored that fact and let him continue.
At graduation, Stretch realized he might improve his chances for college if he did a post-graduate year. He enrolled in Kimball Union Academy (KUA) and had the good fortune of knowing and admiring the headmaster, Dr. Carver, a life-long mentor. Dr. Carver even hired Stretch to coach three varsity sports and encouraged him to attend the athletic training program at Dartmouth College.
Stretch was drafted and served in the United States Army; married Patricia, his childhood sweetheart and with their first son Joe, returned to coach varsity basketball at KUA. Two more children, Mary and Stephen, came while working at KUA.
With Dr. Carver’s blessing, Stretch, in 1976, after 22 years of employment, he left KUA to open a restaurant, The Village Hearth in Lebanon, NH. It was a major endeavor in which his wife, children, and friends put their hearts and souls into starting and running.
Stretch Gillam’s resume includes his coaching positions with an impressive 650+ wins; his awards, including, in 2009, his induction into the New England Coaches Hall of Fame; his time as an athlete, even playing on a semi-professional basketball team in Vermont; and his membership in many organizations. Stretch freely gave his energy to charitable events and his time to many.
We will miss you, Stretch.