If there was one thing for certain about Leland “Lee” McLaughlin, it was that he wore many hats in his life.
A Korean War veteran and captain in the U.S. Army Reserve who served several decades as captain of the Electric Hose Company No. 4 for the Babylon Village Fire Department and as athletic director for Lindenhurst High School, McLaughlin died May 21 of complications from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in Charleston, South Carolina. The Babylon Village resident was 81.
Friends and colleagues described McLaughlin as someone who gave his time to others.
“He always wanted to give back,” said his daughter Jennifer Davis, 41, a nurse practitioner from Bellport. “It certainly didn’t take a lot [for him to do that].”
Despite McLaughlin’s busy schedule, Davis and her father often found time to spend together. The father-daughter duo went on frequent camping trips and attended events at Lindenhurst High School and the Babylon Village Fire Department.
Davis couldn’t help but laugh as she remembered when her father, who was the driver’s education instructor at the high school, also taught her to drive at school. While she admitted to being embarrassed at the time, she chuckled as she said, “I can look back on it now and laugh.”
McClaughlin was born Dec. 1, 1934, in upstate Ithaca. He graduated from Ithaca College in 1960.
Anthony Davida, a Babylon Village trustee and its former fire department chief, credited McLaughlin for being a force behind the department’s recruitment drive. Davida, who grew up in the village across the street from McLaughlin, said McLaughlin — who served with the fire department for 55 years — was continuously active with the department even as he aged and could no longer be involved in the most rigorous firefighting duties.
“Even two years ago, he was still directing traffic,” Davida said of his longtime friend. “He always felt he was a member and he wanted to be a part of [the department].”
Described by Davida as “old school,” McLaughlin was a fixture at fire company meetings who was never shy about speaking his mind when it came to department issues or standing up for his fellow firefighters.
That sense of caring also extended into McLaughlin’s work in Lindenhurst High School, where he was the school’s athletic director for 30 years and a former head coach of the varsity boys’ wrestling team. Michael Canobbio, assistant coach for baseball and junior varsity football coach for Lindenhurst High School, described McLaughlin as a “tremendous” director who cared about the students and coaches under his watch.
Despite being faced with tight budgets year-round, McLaughlin somehow always found a way to get student-athletes and coaches the equipment and uniforms they needed.
In one of his last conversations with McLaughlin, Canobbio recalls McLaughlin said, “Keep smiling.”
He is also survived by his wife, Gaile McLaughlin; another daughter, Tara Penny; and a son, Sean McLaughlin.
Services were held May 27 at St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church in Babylon Village. Burial was at Calverton National Cemetery in Calverton.