“Fritz Gaylord was a distinguished naval officer and gentleman of the highest order,” said Rear Admiral William W. Cobb Jr. “His wonderful personality lifted all whom he met, and made us all feel so much better about ourselves.” This was but one of many comments and anecdotes praising the life of Fritz Gaylord.
Reginald Frederick “Fritz” Gaylord, Jr. passed away peacefully on Monday, October 1, in Hospice Care at the Sun and Sea Manor — a memory care facility in Imperial Beach. He died just two days shy of his 80th birthday. His demise was hastened by battles with cancer and Alzheimer’s Disease.
More recently, in a church known for its size and large accommodations, Coronado’s Sacred Heart Catholic Church was filled to capacity with friends and family who came to say good-bye to Fritz.
Among them were admirals and politicians, family and friends, and some people who had only met Fritz in passing, but walked away with that gift he was so well known for giving – the gift of a smile and compassion to his fellow man.
Perhaps his grandson Jack said it best. “My grandpa didn’t die from cancer. He beat cancer with a life dedicated to God, family and country. Captain Gaylord proudly served 28 honorable years in the US Navy, was a member of Coronado Optimist Club, and was a man of great faith. Rest in peace, Skipper, we’re all going to miss you.”
Born October 3, 1938, Fritz was the first of three sons born to Reginald F. “Reggie” Gaylord and Dorothy Stenger Gaylord. He was born in Jefferson City, Missouri.
His father worked in department stores and, not unlike a Navy family, moved many times during Fritz’ youth. They lived in Austin, Chicago, Long Island, Orinda and finally Vallejo, CA.
From his German mother, Fritz inherited a strong will, personal discipline, and an indefatigable work ethic. From his father, Fritz found his love of gardening, sense of humor, and an uncanny ability to strike up a conversation with anyone, anywhere. This trait endeared him to his family and many others, as long as time wasn’t an issue.
Fritz graduated from Vallejo High School in 1956, at which time he went on to graduate from the University of California, Berkeley, where he earned a BS and was a member of Sigma Nu fraternity. While there, he developed a love affair with his Golden Bears that would last his lifetime.
He watched fondly as they attempted to win an NCAA Men’s Football Championship year after year, and a Rose Bowl, feats they have yet to repeat (won Rose Bowl in 1938 and national championship in 1920s), although hope springs eternal in 2018. Fritz went to his grave with the hope that, “this could be the year.” Fritz also earned an MA in business from Central Michigan University.
Upon graduation, Fritz completed Officer’s Candidate School, and received his commission in 1961, at which time he entered the Navy as a surface warfare officer. He served in the Navy for the next 30 years with the exception of a two-year hiatus to work in his father’s department store, Levee’s, in Vallejo.
While in the Navy, Fritz proudly served on several destroyers and other ships, including the USS Floyd County, USS Shields, USS Worden, USS Ramsey, and USS Hewitt, and also commanded the ex-Cambodian naval ship (E-312) during Operation Frequent Wind in 1975.
Fritz was commanding officer of the USS Hewitt, which was perhaps his favorite tour. Fritz’ family followed him from Yokosuka, Japan to San Diego, then to Norfolk and Alexandria, VA. His last assignment was as Chief of Staff for the U.S. Third fleet, stationed in Honolulu, HI.
His shore assignments included Mare Island Naval Shipyard (where he served as aide) and the Bureau of Naval Personnel. For a time, Fritz served as a detailer for younger officers. He loved helping them chart their futures in the Navy.
At the celebration of life, Rear Admiral Fran Holian told how, as a junior officer on his second ship, older officers would regale the wardroom with fantastic stories about Fritz. “We were never quite sure they were true, but by the time they finished telling them, we were all crying with laughter.
“Fritz has lived in my heart and my mind for well over 40 years, and that’s where he will live forever – in my heart and in my mind. And I think that’s the way he would like it too.”
Admiral Holian likened Fritz to a great sailboat stretching sails into the ocean – an object of strength and character. “I watch until it fades over the horizon. Then, at my side, when someone says, ‘there, the ship is gone,’ I know in my heart there are other voices, on another shore, to take up the glad shout, ‘here he comes.’ Sail on my friend.”
From an earlier letter read aloud, Admiral Cobb’s words rang true. “His was a wonderful example of leadership and guidance, backed by an extremely keen and dry wit. He was incredibly intelligent and nobody knew more about ships, people and the Navy than Fritz.
“He would open his desk drawer after the Lt. Commander had visited the office to discuss his next assignment. And then Fritz would give him an autographed picture of himself in uniform. He would then say, ‘I hope this has been a wonderful experience for you.’
“His wisdom and humor have served to guide many of us,” said Holian. “We will not see his like again.”
Fritz was fortunate enough to have found the love of his life two times. The first was with Antoinette “Toni” Fahy Gaylord. After fully retiring in 1989, Fritz and Toni settled in Coronado for good, where both became very busy in the Coronado community.
Fritz and Toni were institutions in the Coronado civic and social scenes, known for their hard work and putting back into the community they so loved. They were married for 48 years and raised two sons, Mike Gaylord of Rancho Bernardo and Reggie Gaylord of Livermore, CA. Toni preceded him in death in 2011.
Almost seven years ago, Fritz met Kathleen “Kitty” O’Toole-Herlihy of Coronado. Fritz and Kitty shared his last years together, a time too brief but also punctuated with many wonderful memories and gatherings with Coronado friends.
At his services, accolades and anecdotes filled the room, but the one thing heard over and over again was gratitude to Kitty for making his last years on this earth so happy. Indeed; a short but well-lived and memorable marriage of two wonderful souls.
He loved to play golf with his Navy buddies, although they harassed his game horribly. He was an avid classic car aficionado. He had a particular fondness for vintage Volkswagens, owning three. He also loved the 1965-66 era of Ford Mustangs, of which he owned two.
A common sight at old car shows was Fritz, bent over the front fender of a Shelby-GT, hood up, and throttling the carburetor with his fingers, just to hear the roar of the engine. It was music to his ears.
Some claim Fritz was responsible for moving the Coronado Flower Show Men’s Creation contest away from staid floral arrangements, to more meaningful social commentary, and even politics weren’t exempt. Of course, that’s an inside joke/story that only those smiling will get.
He was a very active and proud member of the Sacred Heart Parish and declared himself a man of Christ. He was also active in the Knights of Columbus, Coronado Optimist Club, and served on the Board of Directors for the Coronado Public Library.
He was a familiar face at Coronado Yacht Club and Concerts at the Park, MotorCars on MainStreet, among other events throughout Coronado. He was also a supporter of MainStreet and the Coronado Historical Association.
Fritz was a proud Navy veteran and had lived in Coronado for nearly 40 years. He was a diehard Padres fan, and friendly neighbor to all. Perhaps his proudest roles were as loving husband, father and grandfather. He will never be forgotten or replaced.
Fritz is survived by his wife, Kathleen (“Kitty”) O’Toole-Herlihy Gaylord, sons Michael (Kathleen) and Reginald F. Gaylord III (Jessie), and stepchildren Austin, Kevin and Shannon Herlihy. He was tremendously proud of grandchildren Melissa Snider, Andrew, Timothy and Jack Gaylord, and Liam, Peyton and Piper Herlihy. He was preceded in death by his two brothers, Steve and Greg, and his first wife, Toni.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to the American Cancer Society (www.cancersociety.org) or the Alzheimer’s Association of San Diego (www.alz.org/sandiego), “In Memory of Fritz Gaylord.”
Services were held Oct. 15 and his ashes will be interred at Fort Rosecrans with full military honors, accompanied by a private service. The family wishes to thank all those who offered their support in a time of need, including care givers Patrick O’Toole; Comfort Keepers, Javier Gomez, Courtney Duryea and Shannon Herlihy. They also wish to thank Light Bridge Hospice for the professional and thoughtful manner in which they operate.
[Contact: Joe Ditler, re obituaries and living-obituaries, dba Coronado Storytelling. (619) 435-0767 or firstname.lastname@example.org]