Clark Gillies, second from left, greets Denis Potvin, second from...

Clark Gillies, second from left, greets Denis Potvin, second from right, as Bryan Trottier, right, and Bobby Nystrom, left, get a chuckle out of the encounter during introductions for "The Core of the Four" New York Islanders teams that won consecutive Stanley Cups from 1979 to 1982, at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y., March 2, 2008. Credit: AP/Kathy Willens

Jon Ledecky marveled at how comfortable Clark Gillies was with a microphone in his hand. But the Islanders’ co-owner noticed a purpose to the late Hall of Famer’s always humorous monologues.

"He loved to tell stories and jokes and he loved the microphone," Ledecky told Newsday. "In a way, when he grabbed the microphone, it wasn’t stories regarding him. It was stories about people he played with, people who touched his life. And then it would eventually move into this incredible pitch for philanthropy.

"That’s a talent that very few people have because he was a larger-than-life personality."

Gillies, who won four Stanley Cups with the Islanders from 1980-83 and made Long Island his home after retiring, passed away Friday at the age of 67 after a bout with a non-COVID-19 disease.

As Gillies’ health faltered and since his passing, Ledecky has been receiving a stream of texts — "literally hundreds" — from members of the Islanders’ family and fans whose lives were impacted by Gillies, detailing No. 9’s generosity and selflessness.

The Clark Gillies Foundation (clarkgillies.org) helps children who are physically, mentally or financially challenged, and Ledecky estimated it has donated about $4 million to organizations on Long Island.

Huntington Hospital named its pediatric emergency unit for the foundation.

"Clark was a crier," Ledecky said. "Clark was emotional. Clark wasn’t afraid of being emotional. He was a guy’s guy. He would show us around and he would be tearing up as he described the different kids who were in the pediatric unit.

"You could see how profoundly important it was to him. It wasn’t the fact that his name was on the door. It was the fact that he could help these kids. The fact that his name was on the door was such a privilege to him, but it also gave him the sense that he could ask the big ask. The donations that he got from the business community, never with any fanfare, never with any self-credit, were pretty enormous."

So as Ledecky continues to receive these texts asking what to do to honor Gillies’ memory, he has a simple answer.

"It doesn’t matter about donating big money," he said. "Donate $9 to his foundation."

Ledecky said Gillies displayed the same passion toward the Islanders’ alumni and making sure they stayed connected with the organization.

Ledecky and Scott Malkin bought into the Islanders in 2014, eventually taking over majority ownership from the late Charles Wang.

Ledecky said one of his first conversations with Gillies was about the bonds with the Islanders’ alumni.

"He was very kind in taking me aside and trying to teach me the history of the team," Ledecky said. "And what the team meant, not only to him, the alumni or to the current players, but also to the community. He was very taken with the notion that Scott and I felt that the team was a community trust. He thought that should be an enduring theme.

"It was because he expressed better than I think anyone the essence of what it meant to wear the sweater. He talked a lot about the sweater and what it meant to wear the jersey and to be No. 9."

Ledecky said Gillies insisted that mattered for anybody who ever wore the Islanders’ jersey.

For instance, Petr Mika.

The Islanders selected the Czech forward in the fourth round of the draft in 1997, and the sum of his NHL career was the three games he played for the team from March 21-24, 2000. He took one shot on goal and did not record a point.

Mika left the Islanders’ organization in 2001 to continue his career in his homeland. In 2018, he brought his wife and daughters, plus his in-laws from the Czech Republic, to Long Island for the Islanders’ alumni weekend.

And Gillies treated Mika as if he had played on all four Cup winners.

"He was talking to Clark and turned to me and he says, ‘This is the highlight of my life,’ " Ledecky said. "Clark hugged him. And the fact that he was hugged by Clark Gillies, the guy started to cry.

"The guy was so touched by the fact that he was being recognized as an alumni of the team, even though he played for a cup of coffee. And here’s Clark Gillies, who is in the Hall of Fame and his number is on the wall and Clark is totally relating to him just like another guy.

"That’s Clark in a nutshell, what he meant to the team."

 

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