From The Charlotte Observer, July 28, 2010
At 6-feet-4, the peg-legged pirate towered over his "little mateys" who came for generations to the Riverview Inn on the Catawba River in search of seafood bounty and tales of far-off coves. He called himself Captain Windy.
"Ahoy mate!" the captain would bellow, always drawing smiles as big as a bedtime story.
He'd shake the little hands, kindly slap parents on the back and guide them into the fish camp off Wilkinson Boulevard just before the bridge to Gaston County. "Go on in," he'd say. "Sit anywhere you like. If there's someone sitting there, make 'em move. Just make yourself at home."
That was Gilbert Winchester, who died Saturday (July 24, 2010) at 82. With his twisted red mustache and elaborate Blackbeard get-up, he doubled as a good-hearted pirate and part-time host at the Riverview for 40 years.
He was also a country-western singer, do-gooder for children's causes and host of Captain Windy's "Adventures in Pirate Cove" on WBTV in the early 1960s.
Winchester, who loved nothing more than to make a child smile, died on Oak Island on the N.C. coast, where he and wife Joyce had moved in 1997 from their Gaston County home in Stanley. His wife died last month.
"Captain Windy was like a cartoon character come to life," said Ann Moody of Charlotte, who was probably 5 in the mid-1960s when she first laid eyes on him. "There was nothing scary about him. The way he spoke to children, you could tell how much he cared for them. He seemed to take great pleasure in seeing them smile and be happy.
"For me and my friends, he was the highlight of going to the Riverview."
To one friend, Cammie Alexander of Charlotte, the captain "was larger than life. We thought he was a real pirate. We never called the (fish camp) Riverview. It was always, 'Let's go to Captain Windy's!'"
A captain is commissioned
Winchester was the youngest of 11 children, raised in mountainous Swain County, on Hurricane Ridge near Needmore - west of Asheville.
He grew into a proud man, his word as binding as a contract. He met his wife driving a school bus in Bryson City. They married in 1951 and soon moved to Stanley, where Joyce Winchester had relatives.
A year later, he walked into the Riverview and asked Irwen Burns Sr. for a job. The fish camp had opened just after World War II with 10 booths. Burns made him a waiter.
But gradually Captain Windy (a play on his last name) emerged, he of the Good Ship Riverview. He dressed in tri-corner hat, blouse-sleeve shirts, kerchief, a red 9-pound pirate's coat with gold buttons, knee britches and a peg leg.
A real peg leg. The captain always told his young mateys that a shark had taken his left leg.
Don't tell anyone who still believes his shark story. But he really lost the leg in the Navy after a motorcycle accident that left him unconscious for 18 days and hospitalized for eight months, said his daughter, Betty Wallace.
"The doctors didn't set it at first; they told his mother they didn't expect him to live," Wallace said.
When he woke from a coma, they tried to set the leg but it never healed properly.
In 1951, doctors amputated below the knee.
Five years later, what remained flared up and they took the thigh.
It just added to his pirate mystique. As did the green Amazon parrot named Rita he kept perched on his shoulder. Over the years, he had three parrots, Wallace said.
"Daddy had three (artificial) legs, too, but was more comfortable with the peg leg," she said. "We never considered him disabled. It never stopped him from doing anything."
Devoted to children
Winchester always had another job, mainly as a welder at Pneumafil Corp. in Charlotte.
For years, he also dispatched calls for the Gaston County Police, while Joyce dispatched calls for Stanley police.
But most knew him as the peg-legged pirate, not only at Riverview, but on his TV show (Saturday mornings at 7:30 just after Captain Kangaroo).
In his pirate garb, he strummed his Epiphone guitar and sang country-western tunes in shows throughout the region.
With TV cowboy Fred Kirby, he helped raise money for children's causes. And with Charles Keyes, the "Parson of the Hills," he helped deliver Christmas joy to poor children in Appalachia.
Once in Stanley, Winchester put a needy child with cancer in a side-car hitched to his motorcycle and drove him around town collecting money for his treatment. They raised $12,000.
"Daddy's concentration his whole life as Captain Windy was children," Wallace said. "He loved being surrounded by children. Anytime a child needed help, all they had to do was call him. The only time he ever got mad was when a child was hurt."
— David Perlmutt
Reprinted with permission by The Charlotte Observer. Copyright owned by The Charlotte Observer.
From The Wilmington Star-News, July 27, 2010
Television pirate 'Captain Windy' dies
By Ben Steelman
OAK ISLAND | Gilbert Lail Winchester was not a pirate, but he played one on TV.
Standing 6 feet, 5 inches tall, with a large grin and bright red hair, Gilbert Lail 'Captain Windy' Winchester made a terrific pirate. For one thing, his wooden leg was real.
For four years in the 1960s, Winchester was "Captain Windy," the host of "Adventures in Pirates Cove," a Saturday children's program that ran on Charlotte television station WBT.
For decades, he was also the greeter at the Riverview Inn, a popular seafood restaurant on the banks of the Catawba River between Charlotte and Gastonia.
Standing 6 feet, 5 inches tall, with a large grin and bright red hair, Winchester made a terrific pirate. For one thing, his wooden leg was real.
Winchester, 82, who lived in Oak Island since 1997, died Saturday at Dosher Memorial Hospital.
"Since Winchester really and truly did have a peg leg, he looked more convincing than most other actors would be," wrote Tim Hollis in his 2001 book, "Hi There, Boys and Girls: America's Local Children's TV Shows."
"Adventures in Pirates Cove" ran Saturday mornings after "Captain Kangaroo" on WBT from 1961 to 1964. At first the show operated as a sort "thinly disguised commercial" for the Riverview Inn, Hollis noted, with a set modeled after the restaurant's dining room.
Later, after Sunbeam Bread and Sunrise Dairy joined as sponsors, the show acquired other features, notably a "treasure map" with daily clues. Youngsters who solved the treasure's location would have "a truckload of toys and goodies" delivered to their homes personally by Captain Windy, Hollis wrote.
Winchester became such a regional celebrity that his photo still appears on the Riverview Inn's website (www.the-riverview-inn.com), along to the words of "Captain Windy's Song," which Winchester recorded in the 1960s. He regularly greeted children with his trademark phrase, "Ahoy, Little Mate."
Born in the Needmore community of Swain County in the North Carolina mountains, Winchester dropped out of school after the 6th grade to help support his family during the Depression. At the age of 13, he was driving a team of logging horses, according to his daughter, Mayor Betty Wallace of Oak Island.
Winchester joined the U.S. Navy in 1945, near the end of World War II, "because that was the only service where you didn't have to wear a tie," Wallace said. "Daddy never wore a necktie in his life."
He lost his left leg in an accident while serving in the Navy in the late 1940s, Wallace said.
Winchester was working as a waiter at the Riverview Inn when owner Irwen W. Burns had the idea of dressing him up in pirate gear with a peg leg.
Often appearing as Captain Windy, Winchester devoted many hours entertaining children at the Shriners Hospitals for Children, the Parson of the Hills Outreach program in Hickory and the Orthopedic Hospital of Gastonia.
Winchester also performed widely as a country-Western singer and had a long-running daily radio show on WCGC in Belmont.
His wife of 59 years, Joyce Winchester, had died on June 11. Survivors include daughters Betty Wallace and Lynise Hicks of Oak Island, sons Ronnie Winchester of Cramerton and Roy Winchester of Clover, eight grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.
After a funeral held Monday in Southport, Winchester will be buried Wednesday, June 28, at Mount Holly.
Gilbert Lail Winchester
OAK ISLAND - Gilbert Lail Winchester, better known as "Captain Windy," 82, of Oak Island, formerly of Stanley,passed away peacefully on July 24, 2010. All who knew the Captain will remember him as one who left you with a smile on your face and a grin in your heart.
Born in Needmore, NC, "Windy" went to be with Joyce, his beloved wife of 59 years. His grandchildren, David and Jessi Winchester, who preceded him, were there with their Grandma Joyce to greet the Captain when he arrived.
He is survived by two sons, Ronnie Winchester and wife Lynn of Cramerton, NC; Roy Winchester of Clover, SC; two daughters, Betty Wallace and husband Earl of Oak Island, and Lynise Hicks of Oak Island; 8 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.
Visitation will be held at Woodlawn Funeral Home in Mt. Holly on Wednesday, July 28th from 3PM-5PM, followed by an interment service at Hillcrest Memorial Gardens in Mt. Holly with Reverend Dr. Danny Penny officiating.
Windy's children would like to extend their deepest appreciation and gratitude to Dr. Reshley, Dr. Brown and all of the nurses and personnel at Dosher Memorial Hospital for their loving care during the last two weeks of his life. Captain Windy's years of volunteer work with the Shriner's Children's Hospitals, the Parson of the Hills Benefit Program and the Orthopedic Hospital of Gastonia benefitted the lives of countless children served by those organizations.
Next to his family, nothing meant more to the Captain than to make a child smile as he greeted them with his hearty "Ahoy, Little Mate" as he welcomed them and their family for many years at Riverview Inn Fish Camp in Charlotte.
In lieu of flowers, the Captain's family asks that donations please be forwarded in his memory to the Shriner's Children's Hospital, 950 West Faris Road, Greenville, SC 29605 or through the Shriner's website www.shrinershq.org/hospitals/greenville.
Obituary as published in the Charlotte Observer.