Bass Rocks Legend Bob Gillis Passes at 84; Kudos to Jane Heil, Roger Day

We kick off our 2013 rants and raves on a somber note, marking the passing of some very special people from here on Boston’s North Shore.

Bob Gillis, one of the golfing Gillis brothers from Beverly and the 37-year head golf professional at Bass Rocks Golf Club in Gloucester, died on Christmas Eve in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, where he and wife Pauline spent the past 20 years in retirement. He was 84.

Bob was one of 12 children, two others of whom also made their living in the golf industry. Brother Jim was a successful club professional as well, the bulk of his career spent serving as head golf pro at Portland (Maine) Country Club. John Gillis, meanwhile, enjoyed a productive career in golf product sales.

Bob as a youth was a pinsetter at the Beverly Bowl-O-Mat and United Shoe (now Beverly Golf and Tennis) Country Club and won the Beverly city bowling title five successive years in the 1950s. But golf was the game withn which his name would become synonymous.

After serving in World War II he worked briefly for Tom Mahan Sr. at “The Shoe,” then became an assistant professional at Oak Hill in Fitchburg before securing his first head pro post at Intervale in Manchester, N.H. That’s where he met Pauline, who was one of his students. He also was heda pro at Concord (N.H.) before landing what he called his dream job at Bass Rocks in 1957.

Bob and Pauly were the perfect fit as husband/wife and father/mother to six children, including son Dan, who followed in his dad’s footsteps and currently serves as head pro at Londonderry CC in New Hampshire.

Bob and Pauly ran the Bass Rocks golf operation like a fine-tuned machine. They made   thousands of friends along the way. Bob never claimed to be much of a competitive player, but could he teach — and sell. Thanks to his guidance, in some cases with one small tip, in other cases through a series of lessons that made a world of difference, Bob helped make champions out of a lot of good players among his members, chief examples being John Frithsen, Richie Burke, Norma Harris Tarr and Rollie Brooks. Son Dan, of course, was his favorite protege of all.

Bob also made his mark with the New England PGA, serving as the organization’s treasurer for seven years, being named NEPGA Professional of the Year in 1970 and getting elected to the NEPGA Hall of Fame in 2000.

Personally, Bob was as fine a local club professional as I dealt with in my 25 years covering golf for The Salem Evening News; always upbeat, cooperative, helpful in every way imaginable in making my job easier.

I learned a lot about the man when I caddied for him in a qualifying round at Indian Ridge for the Hospital Open back in the late 1960s. This was my first acquaintance with the man, and he could not have been nicer in making my looping experience enjoyable, no matter what he shot, which was in the low 80s. He did not qualify for the tournament proper, but that marked the beginning of a wonderful relationship we enjoyed spanning more than 30 years.

There won’t be another like him.

Our condolences also go out to a four other North Shore families; the Connellys of Danvers on the passing of Warren, a popular player at Ferncroft and Beverly; the Salem Willows Berrys on the death, at 86, of Eleanor “Bubbles” Berry; the McGees of Lynn after the death, at 88, of former Massachusetts House Speaker Thomas McGee; and the Barry Gallup family of Swampscott and Wellesley on the passing, at 26, of Lisa Ann Gallup.

A few words on Bubbles. That was the perfect name for one of the best known and most beloved members of the Berry clan of 7 Columbus Square. Wife of the equally popular George Berry, Bubbles loved her city, her family, the opportunity to serve as the hostess with the mostess, and gaming Las Vegas style. I got to know Bubbles and George through their neighbors and mutual dear friends George and Caudia Hennessey. Bubbles was bubbly — and fiery. She was a million laughs wherever she was and at the same time could take you to task, all with a hug. I was privileged to attend about ten of the Berrys’ renowned Super Bowl Sunday parties that always started promptly at high noon with bloody Mary’s. She delighted in putting on the shindig for hubby and his buddies such as the aforementioned Hennessey, Brad Sheridan, Bob McKenna, Mo Morency, John Moustakis and many others whose names escape me. I would often be the latest arrival, in late afternoon, after covering the traditional noontime Celtics-Lakers (or other big name opponent) nationally televised NBA game from the Garden. Bubbles would make me feel like the Prodigal Son when I staggered in the door, giving me hugs and beverages and food until she felt I had caught up with the rest of the guys. Bubbles and Supt. Larry McIntire made a terrific team at the Salem Rec department for many years. She now belongs to the ages. I imagine she’s in heaven right now with the late great George Hennessey, establishing a “V” Bar (One Barton Square Lounge) in the sky. The laughs we had there.

A few words on Tom McGee. Golf has been an incredible blessing in my life for a hundred different reasons, one of which has been meeting some amazing people from all walks of life. Tom McGee was one of those amazing people.  I met him for the first time when I caddied in an NEPGA Pro-Am at Merrimac Golf Club around 1968. Alvie Raymond, the tournament starter for the NEPGA, pointed out Paul Barkhouse, the top-playing assistant at Happy Valley, to me in the Merrimac parking lot and McGee, a life-long member at the Valley (now Larry Gannon GC) was his amateur partner.

Next thing you know Barkie plays three years on the PGA Tour, returns to New England and gets the head pro job at Ferncroft CC after founding pro Bill Ezinicki moves on to The International. McGee was a member at Ferncroft and by now I was writing sports for The News. Over the years McGee, golf chum Bill O’Donnell (the greyhound racing king) and Barkie gave me more scoops than I ever could have dreamed of, i.e. post-round interviews at Ferncroft with Joe DiMaggio, Willie Mays and Brent Musberger, among others.

Congrats to two local high school coaches who have climbed to extraordinary summits. To Jane Heil on capturing her 500th victory as Peabody High girls’ basketball coach, ably assisted for many of those wins by husband Bob, and to Roger Day, who will be inducted into the Massachusetts High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame January 29 in Westborough. Day, also an outstanding football quarterbacks coach /offensive coordinator, has taken the Danvers High baseball team to heights never before known, i.e. 12 Northeastern Conference titles in 14 years, a state championship and a 392-171 record.

Best to you all ’til next time.





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