Leon “Lee” Gilles
A friend of literacy to Mason County residents and the nation died this month doing one of the things he loved most: promoting the idea that reading problems are not necessary. Leon “Lee” Gilles would be the first to tell you that reading problems are widespread in our country because the reading field has the wrong idea about what it takes to fix them.
Gilles is survived by his children, Steve, Laura, and Greg; his seven grandchildren; brothers Floyd and Pete; and his second wife, Dee Tadlock.
Gilles earned his undergraduate degree in industrial engineering from Northwestern University and his master's in business administration from Stanford University. He served in the Peace Corps in Liberia, Africa, in the 1960s. He came to Shelton in 1979 to work for Simpson Timber and joined Skookum Rotary upon his arrival. He helped the club launch the Washington State Seafood Festival and West Coast Oyster Shucking Championship (a.k.a., OysterFest), the county’s largest annual fund-raising event. Also in the 1980s, Gilles took great pride in helping to organize the construction of a Peace Park in Tashkent, Uzbekistan with PloughShares, an organization comprised of former Peace Corps volunteers from the Seattle area. After the completion of the Peace Park, Gilles organized a tour of America's Pacific Coast for Uzbek and Russian businessmen, so that they could learn about American business. The tours were hosted by Rotary Clubs in California, Oregon, and Washington.
Two of the local projects that Gilles was most passionate about were the 8th Grade Academic Excellence Awards for area junior high students and the community gardens in Shelton, created for senior citizens. To this day, residents of the Birch Street neighborhood where the gardens are located still grow flowers and vegetables in the raised beds, built by Rotary Club volunteers.
In 1989, Gilles was assigned to locate a literacy program for Simpson Timber. The goal was to equip workers to participate in company-wide industry improvement efforts. Gilles and a small team of Simpson leaders, including his boss, Paul Everett,searched the nation seeking innovative methods. Ultimately, they felt that national reading programs offered "more of the same" and rejected them in favor of tutoring methods developed by a little-known reading expert named Dee Tadlock from the Yakima Valley.
Tadlock relocated to the Shelton area and launched “Read Right” with Gilles and Everett, who were deeply moved when the methods began to transform adults who had struggled with reading problems for years into successful readers within a matter of weeks. The team was particularly impressed when one Simpson employee who had been diagnosed at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) with severe dyslexia and who had received intensive intervention at the university's prestigious Fernald Reading Clinic improved in reading to the point that he could, for the first time in his life, read novels. The adult started the program reading at a second grade level and progressed to high school level material with 60 hours of tutoring. Twenty-years later, Gilles could still grow misty-eyed when he recalling what it was like to watch the man read his first novel, Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls.
A long-time humanitarian, Gilles was so impressed with what the program did for adult workers that he became determined to make the methodology available throughout the nation. As a direct result of his efforts, numerous other corporations also implemented Read Right adult literacy programs, including Weyerhaeuser, Boeing, Merck Pharmaceuticals, Ford, Chrysler, Hewlett Packard, Georgia Pacific, Motorola, Procter & Gamble, and International Paper. In the midst of their growing work with industry, Gilles and Tadlock married and, in the late 1990s, they began to work with schools and colleges.
Since 1991, the company built by Gilles and Tadlock has provided training in Read Right methodology to classroom teachers, aides, college instructors, and adult literacy workers in 24 states. Because of the methodology's effectiveness, the State of North Dakota has adopted the methodology for all of its juvenile justice facilities and adult prisons.
Gilles maintained his membership in Rotary International for more about 40 years and led an active and dynamic life until March 7th, 2012, when he was struck down by a massive stroke while completing work at the National Youth-At-Risk Conference in Savannah, GA. He passed away surrounded by family on March 10th.
A public remembrance for Gilles is scheduled for Saturday, March 31st at the Shelton Civic Center; hors d’oeuvres at 4:15 pm, followed by the public event at 5:15 pm.
"Lee reminded me of Johnny Appleseed,” said long-time friend and fellow Skookum Rotarian Jerry Obendorf. “He just went around leaving things that grew. Simpson’s literacy program, Mason County’s Academic Excellence Program, the Senior Gardens…he was always giving everyone else the credit, but what he did for others was life-changing. "
Gilles' dreams to end the epidemic of reading problems that plague both schools and industry live on in a foundation that he guided for a decade. Formerly known as The Literacy Alliance, the foundation is being renamed in his honor tocarry on his legacy. To learn more about Lee Gilles and The Lee Gilles Foundation for Literacy, visit www.leegillesfoundation.org.
Submitted by Rhonda Stone
Read Right Systems & The Lee Gilles Foundation for Literacy