A PROFILE OF AN EXCEPTIONAL KITING PIONEER WOMAN
In the summer of 1985, when Jane Parker-Ambrose decided to participate in an educational tour of the Soviet Union the following October, little did she know that an annual worldwide kitefly would be its result. In 1959, when Pat York-Gilgallon decided to save the North American Great Lakes, little did she know that she would be inextricably involved with kites and be the first to help move Jane toward founding One Sky One World International Kite Fly.
How the paths of these two kiting women pioneers crossed is a story worth retelling.
Jane became involved in the art, culture, making, and promotion of kites beginning in 1975. This was because of her inherent appreciation of the kite as a recreational and spiritual object, and its nature as an object of wonder and beauty which promotes peace and human enjoyment. She opened the first kite shop in Denver, Colorado, USA in 1976 and began making kites and windsocks in 1977. Whenever she would appear in person or on radio or television to promote kiting (often as the “Kite Lady”) she would speak about the kite and world peace.
It was not unusual then for Jane, having decided to go to Russia, to make a special kite which she called the “Peace Comet” in order to present it as a “people-to-people peace gesture” to what was then the Soviet Union. This presentation, in October of 1985 in Moscow to the Soviet Women’s Peace Committee, was the inspiration for kitefliers worldwide to annually make the simple and meaningful OSOW statement for global friendship and cooperation. But just before she left on her trip, she took the “Peace Comet” kite and one identical replica to the American Kitefliers Association Convention in San Diego, California. There, over 300 American and international kitefliers learned of the gesture and signed a letter of friendship to the Soviet peoples. The second “Peace Comet” kite was donated to the auction which raises funds for the AKA organization. It was purchased by Pat York-Gilgallon for $170.
That Pat was the high bidder for the kite is perfectly understandable and profoundly appropriate when her story is known.
As a member in the League of Women Voters in Southfield, Michigan in the late 1950’s, Pat was far ahead of her time in her concern with water resources and ecology. She became the Chair of her chapter’s Water Resource Committee and, after organizing women from the League in the five states which surround Lake Erie (one of the five Great Lakes), wrote a manual to educate voters about the ecological options open to them. “Ecology” was called the “Silent Science” and nobody even knew what it was about. “But I grew up with respect for the lakes, rivers and wetlands and understood that land, development, water, and air were all interrelated.”
Because of her work, she was appointed in the early 1960’s by Michigan Governor George Romney to the “Task Force on Water Rights, Use, and Pollution Control”. As the single and vocal “public voice”, she served along with educators and corporate leaders as one who had “nothing to gain, no political agenda, and no money to make or lose”. Pat recounted that, “I lectured in 5 states using a geophysical map of the land. I was able to translate what was scientific terminology to lay terms–actually, I ended up educating the people on the task force.
As a result of the Task Force’s work, 120 Michigan State agencies were reduced to 20, all under a newly created Department of Natural Resources.
“I realized that political boundaries meant nothing when it came to the use of land. Actually the first 13 states of the U.S. were divided by natural boundaries. It was only after George Washington sent out surveyors who thought everything west of the Allegheny Mountains was flat that the country was divided by mostly straight lines,” she said. She continued, “The space program has really helped to educate us to the idea that things are not 2-dimensional.”
But what does all of this good work have to do with kites? “Quite smiply”, says Pat, “I realized that people had to see the problem to get involved. There are lots of parks and beaches in Michigan. Many were too polluted to use, people couldn’t even swim at the beaches. I figured if I could get them to go to the beach to fly kites and see the problem, they would want to protect the land which belonged to them, the public.”
Pat Gilgallon translated her belief in the pastime into the kite business in 1975. She has promoted kiting wherever she has gone, from the Caribbean (“They only flew kites on Good Friday and thought it strange”) to the Mediterranean (“I flew them at the great pyramids in Egypt, but not off of the camel, it might have spooked him”).
“Kite flying is accessible, and inexpensive. There is a kite for everyone. You don’t have to be rich and make tee times, kites speak an international language”, says Pat.
Why was Pat committed to become the owner of the “Peace Comet” kite? “I was hopeful that the kite would make a difference, that others would see what Janey and I saw. If you want to make changes, you’ve got to get people involved. We’ve cleaned up a lot of rivers and lakes. I guess it worked.” Thank you Pat for following your heart, supporting OSOW and helping the world of kiting make a difference to the world.