Elise Maclay, poet, writer, foodie, elegant dresser and accomplished traveler, died on Tuesday, January 5, 2021. Elise passed away peacefully at the age of 95 in her beloved home on the Long Island Sound in Westport. Her final days were spent looking out over the sea, surrounded by family, and with a photograph of her beloved husband David at her side.
Elise was born on August 26, 1925, the only child of very loving parents, Elise and "Pop" Leidheiser. She attended the College of William & Mary on full academic scholarship. She majored in English literature, graduating Phi Beta Kappa, and serving as class poet until her death. Her literary passion later blossomed into a career as a writer and a poet.
Elise also had a successful early career in the heady Mad Men days of the advertising world. She commuted to Manhattan from Connecticut, with two small children at home, gracefully navigating the mandatory long martini lunches in an otherwise all-male profession. She succeeded in landing and writing copy for the prestigious BMW automobile account. (Once, after the scheduled talent failed to show up on set, she posed as the model for an ad she created.)
A poet throughout her life, Elise’s work has appeared in publications such as Nature magazine. She is the author of two popular books of prose poems, Approaching Autumn and Green Winter. Even as a young writer, her poetry was prescient; her ‘old soul’ somehow capturing the sentiments and diminishing world of the elderly.
Elise collaborated on five books with well-known artist Bev Doolittle, including The Forest Has Eyes and The Earth Is My Mother. Filled with visual surprises, Doolittle's “camouflage” art encourages the viewer to look beyond what is seen at first glance. In the books’ texts, Elise explored her own fascination with Native American themes, wildlife and nature. Her poetry compliments Doolittle’s art, encouraging the reader's eye to slow down, and take in the natural process and systems captured by Dolittle. As one reviewer wrote, “Elise Maclay adds much to Doolittle’s art by explaining how to go about ‘seeing’ that which is often missed. If you have ever sat quietly in the woods, and finally noticed an animal... that has been invisible and still suddenly come into view - then you'll appreciate and understand what Maclay’s poetry is all about.” Elise’s poem “Walk Softly”* in particular is widely quoted among lovers of nature.
Elise was locally sourcing fine food years before chefs in Connecticut starting using cilantro and kale. She was an enthusiastic carnivore who enjoyed great food robustly and whole-heartedly. Her refined culinary taste coupled with her writing gifts led to another career, this one as the food critic for Connecticut Magazine, a position she held for over 25 years. Her reviews were eagerly anticipated by the foodies of Connecticut, as she managed to capture not just the tastes of a restaurant’s offerings, but the ambiance of the setting and often even the personalities and dreams of the chef she featured. The number of exquisite meals delivered to her home in recent months is a testament to the loyalty and gratitude of the many chefs, young and old, whom she discovered and celebrated.
Her true passion was travel--preferably adventures to far-flung and exotic locales with her dear husband, David. She had numerous adventures across the globe. She hiked the ancient Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, explored the Himalayas and climbed Mt. Kenya in a blizzard. In her later life, she relished her trips as one of the "Three Musketeers" setting "off to another Gay Festoon" with her beloved niece LeeLee and her dear friend, Fi, exploring the Caribbean Islands, Valencia, Italy and Portugal as recently as February 2020. Closer to home, she was a beloved presence at the Maclay Family summer home on Cape Cod. Her days there were full -- spent walking on the beaches, swimming in the sea, reading by the fire, and regaling generations of friends and family with adventures and cherished memories.
Her spirit is carried on by her son Gary Gibbs, his wife Kaija and their 4 children Reid, Rhett, Katie and Kim; her stepson Bill Maclay and his wife Alex and their two sons Schuyler and Thayer; her stepson David Maclay Jr. and his wife Juliet and their two sons Milo and Conor; her cousin Joyce Haun; and an extended network of beloved neighbors, chefs and, friends from all walks of life. Elise was predeceased by her son Brian Gibbs and her step-daughter Sherry Maclay. She is now reunited with them, and with her cherished husband and partner-in-shenanigans David S. Maclay. She spent the last 15 years of her life celebrating David's legacy while blazing her own path through the world. Elise would want all who knew her to remember David’s final words, quoting Tennessee Williams: “Make voyages. Attempt them. There’s nothing else.”
Memorials will be held in Chatham, MA and Westport, CT post-COVID. Memorial donations in Elise’s name may be made to The CT Hospitality Employee Relief Fund (www.ctrestaurant.org/relief) or Save The Sound. (www.savethesound.org)
Foot and paw,
Hoof and claw
With equal grace.
It is the way of
Not to overstep
The bounds of hospitality. This is a wild place. Follow me
And leave no trace,
That wind, rain and snow Cannot erase.”