Lee Douglas McChesney

Lee Douglas McChesney. June 11, 1934 – September 1, 2023

Lee passed away quietly in his sleep with family at his side late Friday evening on the first of September. He fought valiantly to stick around for his family but was finally at peace that his business among us was complete, and that he was ready to go.

Lee was born at South Nassau Community Hospital in Rockville Centre, Long Island to Helen Francis [Lemaire] and Richard Glover McChesney. He grew up in nearby Freeport and spent many summer weekends with his parents and older brother, Dick in East Quogue on Tiana Bay. From an early age, Lee loved the water, and always the entrepreneur would take visitors for tours on the canals and open water in a rowboat, explaining the estuaries and naming the various waterfowl. He often recalled his most cherished childhood memory of going to the Metropolitan Opera with his mother as a young boy and being mesmerized by the talents of the singers. As a teen, he lettered in football, wrestling and track at Baldwin High School. Always a man of faith, Lee said prayers before bed every single night of his life and believed deeply in God and the power of prayer.

Lee was 7 ½ when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Already interested in military history, Lee was both fascinated and terrified by the war. He pored over maps and military strategies, developing a keen sense of the tactics involved in every mission. Of particular interest to Lee was the Navy and the importance of the role it played in the Atlantic and Pacific theaters. With this passion for the sea, he enrolled at the US Merchant Marine Academy at Fort Schuyler, NY, underneath what is now the Throgs Neck Bridge (he’d always point it out when we drove over on the way to his parents’ house on Long Island). The Academy was very rigorous in academics, physical fitness, and mental discipline. He graduated with honors ninth in his class in 1956, and then spent four years active duty in the US Navy. He was based at New London, Connecticut on board the USS Chadron, a submarine chaser, where he became Depth Charge Officer and then Chief Navigation Officer. He loved the stars and would often, on clear nights, point out and name all the constellations. His four years at sea brought him to many locations that he never would have seen. As chief navigation officer, he led the USS Chadron down the US East Coast, through the Panama Canal, up to San Diego, San Francisco, and then to Pearl Harbor, and was there when Hawaii became a US State in 1959, continuing to guide the ship to all the Hawaiian Islands. This all developed a love and curiosity for travel. Lee remained in the Naval reserves, and retired as a Full Commander from the Navy in 1977, fulfilling 25 years of service.

While in college and then in the Navy, Lee found a new love for sports and physical fitness. He wrestled as a heavy weight, threw the shotput and discus, and swam competitively, claiming to have beaten the Spanish Olympian in the backstroke. He played softball, football, tennis, and golf, for which he developed a lifelong passion. He and his golfing buddy, Bob Davis, played the member/guest tournament at WHBCC for over forty consecutive years, winning the championship twice. He was a member of the Dorset Field Club for nearly 50 years and loved its historic course.

Right after his honorable discharge from active duty, Lee went to visit his parents at their new home in Pinesfield, East Quogue. He went to a dance that first weekend at the old Westhampton Beach Inn. Lee loved to dance, and noticed a pretty gal named Marion, whom he asked to dance. She recounts that he was kind of loud, obnoxious, and full of himself, “but two steps on the dance floor, and I knew he was the one”! Marion had grown up most of her life in Westhampton Beach and was living in Manhattan when they met. They fell in love and were married less than a year later, on April 15, 1961, at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church. They moved to Kew Garden Apartments in Flushing, Queens, and Lee went to work for Liberty Mutual in Lynbrook selling insurance. A year later, they bought their first house in Baldwin, Long Island, just a few minutes’ drive from Lee’s parents and brother, whom they visited often. In April 1963, their first son, Mark was born, followed by their second son, Scott in February of 1966.

Lee was, in short, an incredible salesman. His natural self-discipline, combined with that which he developed in the Navy, his charm, and ability to put people at ease made him among the most productive insurance salesman on all Long Island. He made every minute of his workday count and was extremely productive. This success in sales made it possible for them to go on numerous skiing trips, and in doing so, fell in love with Vermont. They were visiting Manchester one time and were notified by a local realtor that a house in Pawlet from the late 1700’s on five acres was for sale for $15,000. They took one look at it and were in love. They purchased the house in October 1965, and in 1970, made the decision to leave Long Island and move to Pawlet, which they did in June 1971.

Both Lee and Marion, and their boys, then 8 and 5, fell in love with Pawlet, and made many new friends along the way. Lee joined John Holmes Andrus Real estate as a salesman, at the same time as Bob Schoenemann, with whom he partnered for many years to come. In 1975, Lee left the Andrus Agency to start his own office, Lee D. McChesney Real Estate, which, with son Scott now at the helm after working side by side for over thirty years, continues to thrive today. Lee was elected President of the Vermont South Central Board of Realtors in 1979 and was selected realtor of the year in the same year. Marion almost simultaneously started her pottery business in the lower level of the office building – The Pawlet Potter. Over the next forty years, Lee would go on to connect literally hundreds of families with their new homes and help those ready to move on sell theirs. And right up to the end, he would remember the names of people he helped from decades earlier.

Lee’s love of travel continued, and he and Marion – and often their boys – visited many destinations, including most of Europe, Africa, Ecuador, Thailand, Indonesia, Mexico, and many spots in the Caribbean, and made Tortola nearly a second home. When in the Caribbean, Lee would often pick up a guitar, and sing Jamaica Farewell and Yellow Bird. He had a marvelous singing voice, and you could always count on him to know the words to the first verse. After that, with the exception of “America the Beautiful” to which he knew every word of every verse, he tended to improvise.

Lee loved being a dad. He loved going out into the yard with his boys to play catch, throw a football, and engage in football and softball games when his sons’ friends were over. He played tennis with them, occasionally golf, and rented boats to take them fishing on Lake St. Catherine. When Marion was out of town, Lee would figure out which movie was at the top of his sons’ list, and surprise them with an evening of dinner and a movie – think “Toklat”. He was also firm, and never threatened a punishment that he wouldn’t follow through on.

He was an extraordinary cook, and loved to talk food and wine long before it became a thing to do. His roasts, steaks, seafood, chicken, sweetbreads, sauces were all unique to him, and delicious. He would beat himself up if a steak was slightly overcooked, which it rarely was. And he would pair meals with wines that were always good, but never too expensive.

Right up to the end, Lee was an avid reader. His love and curiosity for history remained his north star, and he would order books through the Pawlet Library. A library employee said to Mark a couple years ago “I can’t tell you what your dad reads, but I can tell you he reads a lot, and it’s heady stuff”.

You might say that Lee lived large in his 89 years here. You’d be right. He was absolutely devoted to his wife of 62 years, loved his parents, his brother and family, and loved his boys and grandchildren. He will certainly be missed, but our collective memories of him will endure forever. Lee is survived by his wife Marion Claytor (Waldo), Mark Paul, Scott Lemaire,

seven grandchildren – Jack, Sam, Olivia, Nate, Abigail and Luke McChesney, and Ashley Maynes. He is also survived by two daughters-in-law Margaret (Brown) and Phoebe (Pierson) McChesney, as well as many nephews, nieces, and cousins. He is predeceased by his older brother Richard.

A memorial service will be held for Lee at the Pawlet Community Church, Route 133 in Pawlet at two pm on Monday, October 16. There will be a reception afterwards at The Barn Restaurant, also in Pawlet. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that any contributions be made to VNAs, Vermont’s Visiting Nurses and Hospice foundation. The McChesney family sends you all our sincere appreciation for the love and support you’ve given us leading up to, and following Lee’s passing. It’s been heartwarming. Thank you.