Gilbert Michel LeClair, of Westford VT, died on April 22, 2021. After several months of home hospice, he checked into McClure Miller Respite House in Colchester VT, and spent his final days in comfort and good company. He was fiercely independent until the end, fighting Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma for over a decade, while maintaining his appreciation of each day and "the good life” he had lived.
Gilbert was born at home on December 3, 1950, in Charlotte, VT, of French-Canadian immigrant parents, Rolland and Germaine (Bouchard) Leclair. He grew up in a large, Victorian house on a small dairy farm, the fourth of six children. Gilbert was independent and daring right from the start. There are many stories of his shenanigans growing up on the farm. When he was about 10 years old, he broke both of his legs in a hay baler accident. He wore full casts for the summer, even into the beginning of the school year. Gilbert healed well and became an expert skier later in life! During high school, Gilbert moved to the Plouffe farm in Charlotte to help on their farm. This was a great opportunity for him to work and become part of another French-Canadian family.
Gilbert graduated from Charlotte Central School and from CVU High School. He enlisted in the Navy and received training in Great Lakes IL, where he was first exposed to the profession of welding, as well as scuba diving. Upon his discharge from the Navy, he continued his vocation and became a most proficient and sought after welder (pipe-fitter). Gilbert worked as an underwater welder at many nuclear plants in the northeast. He also worked on the construction and maintenance of many buildings locally, including IBM, UVM, and the Ben & Jerry's factory. His brothers in the Pipefitters Union Local 693 were some of his closest friends and the source of his favorite stories.
Gilbert enjoyed many adventures on and below the water. He often fondly recalled his small ship sailing journeys to Bermuda and around the Caribbean. His own boats, Starbuck and Sea Rose, were points of great pride. He was an expert diver who enjoyed treasure hunting on the bottom of Lake Champlain and lobster hunting in Long Island Sound. He was quite comfortable in zero visibility water under several feet of ice, and installed quite a lot of pipe in these conditions.
Gilbert was the salt of the earth and content with the simple joys of life. In retirement, he took up hobby farming on his Westford land, affectionately called Nonconformist Farm. Some of his projects included raising birds, beehives, sugaring, gardening (including the best cannabis around!), logging with his Timber Talon and creating the most impressive stacked woodpiles. He was known for riding his horses, Onyx and Ben, into town to pay his taxes.
Gilbert’s only child, Kristin, spent most of her life with her mother and half-siblings in Chicago IL. A few years ago, Gilbert was very excited that Kristin decided to come back to Vermont and reconnect with her father. Gilbert’s family is most grateful and indebted to Kristin, as well as her partner, Tristan, whom Gilbert saw as a son. They have been here for him these last years, caring and giving meaning to his life.
Gilbert's friends and neighbors were a huge and very important part of his life; especially Gretchen Woërner, Yvan Plouffe, Johnnycat Adams, Tom Parker, Justin Morrill and the Trombleys. All who met Gilbert were instantly taken in by his smile and his stories. His big wide-brimmed cowboy hat was superseded only by his big heart. His free spirit and bravery in the face of every challenge he encountered in his life will always be an inspiration to all of us.
Gilbert is survived by his daughter, Kristin LeClair and her partner, Tristan Kading, of Jeffersonville VT, his brother, Gerald LeClair, South Burlington VT, his three sisters, Claudette and Harry Swett, Danville VT, Lorraine O’Brien, Lake Dallas TX, and Gisele Hathaway, Colchester VT, numerous cousins, most of them in Canada, one uncle and aunt, Roma and Noella Bouchard, St. Chrysostome QC, and several nieces and nephews. He is predeceased by his parents, Rolland and Germaine Leclair, and by his younger brother, Maurice, who died tragically in 1991, and Maurice’s twin brother, who died shortly after his birth in 1952.
Gilbert chose cremation. There will be no services at this time, but a celebration of his life will be held later in the year. The family requests that no flowers be sent. Those who wish to honor his memory may do so by greeting each other with a smile and kindness.