Say you’ve found something great. It might be a reference in an obscure book, or some odd device you lucked into on eBay, or a damn good bottle of Calvados brandy – whatever. Your first thought is of the guy you want to show it to, to share it with, the one guy whose judgment and appreciation gives you the measure of all things. For me, that guy was Jay Gaynor, and I am so very sad to lose him.
Jay was more than the touchstone for us in historic trades. His joy was that free-yet-disciplined inquiry that held the doors open for his fellow explorers. He took risks with new ideas and worked to help them succeed if they stumbled at first. I personally owe him much for that.
Jay was the right man in the right place as the leader of Historic Trades at Colonial Williamsburg. Through tough times, Jay was the hub of the wheel that kept the program on the right path. Thoughtful with his responsibilities, it was always because he knew that playing by the rules made the game more fun for us all.
Some years back, I visited Jay at his house for a meeting on the Working Wood Conference. Covering the dining room table was his in-progress, scale model of a Higgins boat infantry landing craft! Certainly Jay was proud of his family members that served in World War II, but the broader truth is that he honored all honest, energetic endeavor. He lived in quiet awe of the best, creative works of mankind.
It is a lucky man who can have a model Higgins boat spread all over the dining room table for months at a time. The man who can do that and still share his life with a fine woman is doubly blessed. Jay’s partner in love and life, Jane Rees, made up a happy team. Her loss is greatest, but the rest of us carry no small share.
News of Jay’s passing came to me when I was in the company of a dozen other workers in wood. I shared the news with all, too stunned to know what to do. The silence was broken when of the men then raised his saw and said, “Then let us salute him on his way.” All the tools were raised then as they called out, “Bon voyage, mate!” and “To Jay!” into the air. In my mind’s eye, I saw Jay look back, and I do hope so much that I saw him smile.
— Roy Underhill
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