Kent Gale, who led his family's real estate company as its growth paralleled Long Island's decades-long population boom, died at his Huntington home Wednesday. The chairman emeritus of Daniel Gale Sotheby's International Realty was 96.
A canny businessman whose farsighted ideas helped the company grow, Gale held fast to timeless values such as fair play, relatives and co-workers said.
In a statement, Gale's wife and three children called him "both an extraordinary businessman and a caring and engaged husband to Jean and father to his children."
Pat Petersen, the company's chief executive, said, "Kent was a pioneer. He was truly a visionary in real estate and he greatly changed many people's lives over the years, including my own."
Under his leadership, the company grew from two offices and a 12-person sales force to 22 offices and 600 salespeople, with $2.5 billion in annual revenues, Petersen said.
Born and reared in Huntington, Gale was an integral part of the company founded in 1922 by his father, Daniel Gale. He was 5 when his father created the company's first development -- in Huntington, naming a street within it "Kent Drive."
Gale volunteered for service in World War II and served in a Hawaii barracks positioned to defend Pearl Harbor. He attended the military's so-called "90-Day Wonder" program, in which men trained to be officers in three months, instead of the typical four-year program. He also served in Panama and attained the rank of captain.
He and Jean, who worked as an assistant to his father, maintained a long-distance romance during his service. They married in 1943.
Upon his return to Long Island, he joined his father at what then was a real estate and insurance company. Gale took the helm in the mid-1950s as his father's health declined.
An energetic and skilled salesman, Gale once set a corporate record by selling five homes in a day, Petersen said. In 1955 and 1956, he was the number-one sales representative in North America for Travelers Insurance's accident and health coverage, according to the Daniel Gale company.
His ability to listen -- letting clients or prospective agents do 90 percent of the talking -- and reputation for integrity were crucial factors, Petersen said.
With aerospace giants such as Grumman cycling executives on and off Long Island, Gale got the then-novel idea of creating a corporate relocation business, offering in-depth local tours and short-term apartments, Petersen said.
An athlete, avid sailor and bridge player, he was active in Rotary International and the Long Island Board of Realtors, among other organizations.
Gale died in the 19th-century home that he and his wife bought as a newly married couple, surrounded by his family and holding his granddaughter's hand. The home is where they all would gather for his traditional fireside Christmas Eve reading of "The Night Before Christmas" and hold birthday celebrations underneath the massive copper beech tree in the backyard.
He and his wife celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary last year.
Gale passed along to his children "the values that he lived every day -- integrity, doing what is right and fair, and the importance of service to the community," the family said in the statement.
In addition to his wife, he is survived by his sons, Daniel Gale of Newark, and Stanley Gale of Lloyd Harbor; daughter, Mary Stokkers of Lloyd Harbor; six grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
Visitation and services will be held Saturday at the Old First Presbyterian Church, 125 Main St. in Huntington. Visitation is from 9 to 11 a.m. with services at 1 p.m.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Huntington Hospital. Checks should be made payable to Huntington Hospital and sent to the Development Department, 270 Park Ave., Huntington, N.Y. 11743.