Obituary: Frederick Carlisle Gleason, World War II veteran, inventor

Frederick Carlisle Gleason (“Fritz”) died peacefully in his sleep in Mystic, Connecticut on Monday, June 27, at 100 years, 8 months, 4 days. He was inventive, strong, independent, persistent, stubborn and passionate, enjoying life on his own terms. In the last few months of his life, he would only drink Guinness stout, and eat chocolate, shrimp, and blueberries, which the wonderful nurses who cared for him cheerfully tolerated, while trying to regulate his insulin. We will miss him. 

Fritz was born in Montpelier, Vermont on October 23, 1915. He remained a proud Vermonter all his life. He often told us stories of his idyllic boyhood. One of our favorites is about the time he smuggled frogs into class and distributed them amongst the boys. They dipped them in ink wells and let them free.
He was married to Mary Taylor Gutterson, who predeceased him, and they had five children: Frederick Jr. (Boston and Mystic, CT), Wilder (Norwalk, CT), James (Darien, CT), Deborah (Marshfield, MO) and John (Northfield, VT), all of whom survive him, as well as thirteen grandchildren, and one of his three sisters.  

Fritz is also the father of numerous inventions, more than 57 of which were patented, including an early mail sorting machine that was a precursor to the “zip code,” a hospital bed raised and lowered by a household vacuum, and the “save a drawer” household tool rack that holds 25 tools in 12 inches of space (our favorite). He did not confine his inventiveness to the commercial arena. He also invented and built toys that delighted and entertained his children, such as an aerial tramway from the house to the play house at the foot of the hill (occasionally enjoyed by adults), a tricycle front loader, and a go cart powered by a lawn mower motor. The grandchildren often marvel that their aunt and uncles grew up with no loss of life or limb. 

Fritz graduated from The Loomis School in Windsor, Connecticut in 1933, and from Yale University in New Haven in 1937. He majored in sociology, reportedly because it allowed him to leave his Thursday afternoons open for long weekend trips to Vermont for skiing at Stowe. In those days, skiers had to hike up Mt. Mansfield. While at Yale, he operated a junk store business, which was duly licensed, as well as a furniture building operation, which was not. 

After graduating, Fritz joined the US Navy and served as a test pilot during World War II, stationed at a base on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington. Besides his serious and important work as a test pilot, he spent some time on his inventive pranks, such as hiding a goat in the crow’s nest of a destroyer. 

After leaving the Navy, he worked for Pratt & Whitney. He met and married his adored wife in 1947, and they started their family. They moved from New York City to Wilton, Connecticut in 1950 and lived there for many years. Fritz held positions as an efficiency expert with various companies, providing expertize in assembly line machines for Bristol Meyers and American Home Products. At 88, he renovated his house in Groton, Connecticut with the help of a friend, then sold it and moved to Marshfield, Missouri, where he lived near his daughter and her four sons for 6 years. 

Throughout his life, he continued to pursue his passions. He swung for the fences. Every problem had a solution, and he continued to seek the answers well into his nineties. He became a passionate devotee of computers and the internet, and was convinced that a water-powered car was an invention that would save the world. He created a blue print for such a car. 

He lived independently at senior housing in Groton until he was 99. At that point, he could no longer beguile the 911 responders into believing that he could live unassisted, so he finally had to move to Mystic Rehab. He was unhappy at first, telling his son Rick, “I was put here by mistake. There are old people here!” But the fact is that his body had started to quit, long before his mind, and he needed basic care. He survived for two years after moving to Mystic, but he never lost his mental faculties. He remained optimistic and curious, and continued to use his computer and read his favorite magazine, “MIT Technology.” He recognized all of us until the end, and was definitely able to express his love – for chocolate, Guinness, shrimp and blueberries, and for us.