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Fred Gay: A skier, sailor, dancer and exterminator of poison ivy

Fred Gay is delightful. Not too many people deserve that moniker, but Fred does. From his engaging smile, to his Amish hat, to—and this is how I became acquainted with Fred—his immunity to poison ivy, Fred is one of a kind!

Fred Gay removing poison ivy at the Giant’s Stairs Trail.

Over the summer Fred offered to remove poison ivy from the McIntosh Lot Preserve and the Giant’s Stairs Trail. Needless to say, both Harpswell Heritage Land Trust (HHLT) and the Town of Harpswell, which is responsible for the Giant’s Stairs Trail, couldn’t say “yes!” fast enough! Anyone who has walked the path at Giant’s Stairs knows how well poison ivy grows there.

Fred was born in Biddeford and grew up in “rural Dayton.” His wife Carol was born in Belfast and grew up in “rural Westbrook.” He says they both lived down dirt roads in those early days, and “thoroughly learned lessons of Yankee thrift and hard work.” They met at the University of Maine and sometimes went “to the ten cent movies at the Memorial Union.” Fred went on to earn a Master’s degree in Agricultural Engineering at Penn State while Carol headed to grad school in Colorado. She stopped by to visit him and, “not being big on ceremony,” they eloped. She later got her PhD from Penn State specializing in calcium research.

Fred says he got tired of working indoors and in 1971 left a teaching position at Penn State to get his surveyor’s license, and went out on his own. Four years later he and Carol were expecting a child. As he searched for a telephone to call Carol and ask how things were going, he noticed he had contracted poison ivy. Their son Zach was born in July of that year, and for reasons he cannot explain, Fred has never reacted to poison ivy again.

Fred and Carol now split their time between Pennsylvania and Maine. They have grandchildren they enjoy, who are always willing to help out. About their lives now Fred says, “We sail a little: Carol is the Captain and I am the Crew. We are avid ballroom and polka dancers, having taken lessons for over 19 years. If you only learn one figure a year you eventually have a lot of moves. In 2019 we went to 67 dances. We have dance friends all over. We are also enthusiastic downhill skiers, having skied a respectable chunk of North America. Our system is to ski during the week then go dancing on weekends when the ski slopes are crowded. The COVID virus mania has put a big dent in these activities. We use our cottage in Harpswell for a base to sail in the summer and ski Maine in the winter.”

Loving family, lots of energy, tons of knowledge and experience, a giving nature, impish smile, great sense of humor—what more could anyone ask for? Oh, yes, immunity to poison ivy!

Here’s to Fred and Carol, truly salt of the earth. We’ll be looking for you next summer!