Remembering Elise Maclay

Elise Maclay — a poet, writer, foodie, elegant dresser and accomplished traveler — died peacefully January 5, in her Westport home by Long Island Sound. She was 95.

She spent her final days looking over the water, surrounded by family and with a photo of her beloved husband David at her side.

Elise attended the College of William & Mary on a full scholarship. She majored in English, graduated Phi Beta Kappa, and served as class poet until her death.

Elise had a successful early career in the heady Mad men days of advertising. She commuted to New York from Connecticut with 2 small children at home, gracefully navigating the mandatory 3-martini lunches in an otherwise male world.

She wrote copy for the prestigious BMW account — and once posed as the model for an ad she created, when the talent did not show up.

Elise Maclay

Elise’s poetry appeared in publications like Nature magazine. Her “Walk Softly” is often quoted by nature lovers.

She wrote 2 books of prose poems, and collaborated on 5 other books with artist Bev Doolittle.

Elise’s poetry, and interest in Native American, wildlife and nature themes, complements Doolittle’s “camouflage” art.

Elise sourced fine food locally, long before chefs used cilantro and kale. A carnivore, she enjoyed great food robustly. Her culinary taste and writing gifts led to another career. For over 25 years she was Connecticut Magazine’s food critic. She captured tastes, ambiance and the personalities and dreams of chefs.

The number of exquisite meals delivered to her home in recent months is a testament to the loyalty and gratitude of many chefs, young and old, whom she discovered and celebrated.

But her true passion was travel — preferably adventures to far and exotic locales — with her husband. She hiked Machu Picchu, explored the Himalayas and climbed Mt. Kenya in a blizzard.

She, her niece LeeLee and dear friend Fi explored the Caribbean islands, Italy and Portugal as recently as last February.

Closer to home, she was a beloved presence at her family’s summer home on Cape Cod. She walked the beaches, swam, read by the fire, and regaled generations of family and friends with adventures and cherished memories.

Her spirit is carried on by her son Gary Gibbs, his wife Kaija and their 4 children; stepson Bill Maclay, his wife Alex, and their 2 sons; stepson David Maclay Jr., his wife Juliet and their 2 sons; cousn Joyce Haun, and an extended network of neighbors, chefs and friends from all walks of life.

She was predeceased by her husband David, son Brian Gibbs and stepdaughter Sherry Maclay.

Elise would want all to know David’s final words, quoting Tennessee Williams: “Make voyages. Attempt them. There’s nothing else.”

Memorials will be held post-COVID in Westport and Chatham, Massachusetts.

Donations in Elise’s name may be made to the CT Hospitality Employee Relief Fund or Save the Sound.

(Hat tip: Judith Hart)

5 responses to “Remembering Elise Maclay

  1. So sad.. a great woman with a great sense of adventure which she recounted with such enthusiasm. May she rest in peace, with David.

  2. Susan Iseman

    Elise was a true gem with a life well lived. She is probably having an exquisite meal as I write this!

  3. Kempton Coady

    Dan this is a wonderful memory. This is her poem “Walk Softly.”

    Earth receives,
    Foot and paw,
    Hoof and claw
    With equal grace.
    It is the way of
    The wild,
    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.”

  4. Rindy Higgins

    oh, I’m so saddened by this news. We were neighbors on Owenoke for many years. We shared mutual quirkiness, humor, nature…and good food. She beat to a different drummer…and I do too…so we had a special time together. Thank you, Kempton, for publishing her poem which I was just now trying to search for on the internet.

  5. Juliana Fulbright

    I was very fond of Elise I was her neighbor for 15 years. We did a lot together as neighbors and just her. I haven’t seen her in five or so years. She told me that her mom lived to be 100 so I thought she would too. I am very sorry to hear about her death. My red kayak was at her home for years. I knew David too but Elise was Special I have been thinking a lot about her recently probably because she wasn’t long for the world. She traveled when she was old too because I remembered her telling me of her trips. Bye Elise !