Every Friday during the summer, weather permitting, people can be seen carrying their chairs and blankets to the lawn in front of the Sousa Memorial Band Shell on the shore of Manhasset Bay in Port Washington to hear the sounds of the brass, reeds and drums floating out on the water. Very few of the audience know that they owe the pleasure of this experience to the lifelong efforts of Gay Pearsall and her family, including her daughter, June Mackey, and June’s husband Floyd. June, the last of the three, passed away on May 26.
June Mackey was born in New York City on Jan. 12, 1923, the daughter of Grace “Gay” Pearsall, nee Walker and John Wesley Rivers. The Walkers and the Riverses were both longtime Port Washington residents and that is where June was raised. While a student in the local junior high school, June attended a football game in Manhasset and was very impressed with the way the drummers in the band played while marching. June was determined to try it out and she approached her school band leader, George Christopher, with her request. Christopher said there had never been a female drummer in the band, but June convinced him it was about time there was one, so she acquired a drum that had been used in the Civil War by a young soldier from Brooklyn, began taking lessons and played in the band through high school. Friends would comment on this early entry into feminism, but June always denied it. “Oh no,” she would say, “I just wanted to play the drum.”
Floyd’s work after the war took him and June to cities in the South. They resided at different times in Richmond, Virginia and Charlotte and Raleigh, North Carolina, but when they returned to live in Port Washington, they threw themselves into Gay’s ongoing effort to establish the Band Shell in honor of the “March King” John Philip Sousa, the former director of the US Marine Band and resident of Port Washington from 1915 to 1932. Together, the three of them wrote to celebrities, politicians, one past President (Eisenhower) and one future President (Reagan), as well as local businesses and professionals. They worked tirelessly to bring their dream to fruition and in 1967, with the help of hundreds of volunteers and contributors, the Band Shell was inaugurated. From that day to the present the Band Shell has continued to offer the free concerts by the bay every Friday in the summer.
A passionate supporter of Port Washington, June’s involvement with the Band Shell continued throughout her life. Arthur George, commander of the local American Legion Post 509 and a longtime supporter of the Band Shell, fondly remembers the days June used to march down Main Street in the annual Memorial Day Parade while playing her drum, with June’s mother, Gay, marching alongside dressed in Revolutionary War attire, including a weskit, silver buckles on her patent leather shoes and a tri-corner hat, while ringing her “Town Crier’s” bell.
“They put on quite a show,” Arthur chuckled, “but it was not only for fun, it was to remind people about the Band Shell and to generate support for the continued existence of that civic icon.”
June is survived by several nieces and nephews and close friends. A visitation took place at the Knowles Funeral Home on Main Street in Port Washington on Tuesday, May 30, and a memorial service was held at the United Methodist Church on Wednesday, May 31, at 4 p.m. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Sousa Memorial Band Shell, PO Box 1461, Port Washington, NY 11050.