No. 2 Top Story of 2012: Lindsay Children Recount Life, Love of Parents Elise and Gregory
The 62-year-old high-school sweethearts died of carbon monoxide poisoning in November. The Lindsay children say "neither of them would have wanted to survive the other."
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on Nov. 13.
Elise and Gregory Lindsay’s three children say their parent’s happiest moments were spent together, sharing a glass of wine, watching the sunset over Lake Chautauqua.
On Saturday nights, back when they had a house full of teenagers, they escaped into the living room with pizza, wine and a movie.
Gillian Whittlesey, 30, said when she’d go and check in on her parents, her dad would simply say, “We’re on a date.”
“They always made it work. They put each other first, like any good couple should, and they were always there for us as a team,” Gillian said.
When they were found in their Cleveland Heights home Thursday afternoon, they were in their kitchen. Greg had cooked dinner for his high-school sweetheart the night before. There were wine glasses on the table.
The Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s Office said carbon monoxide poisoning was to blame, and their deaths were accidental. Cleveland Heights Fire Chief William Freeman said the chimneys were clear, but the boiler in their East Monmouth home, where they had lived for 30 years, was in bad shape.
“We’ve gone back to the house, and even though there was the accident, I think we all agreed it still feels like home. It’s not scary,” said Greg and Elise's son, Dan Lindsay, 33, who lives in Shaker Heights with his wife, Courtney, and their children Ben and Megan.
Visits and calls from friends, family and neighbors have been “constant and beautiful,” he said. There wasn’t a free spot on his countertop — it was covered with food. They had to bring in extra refrigerators to keep up with it. At least a dozen flower arrangements were displayed throughout the house.
“I know for a fact that neither of them would have wanted to survive the other. We all could probably agree that the timing is horrible, but they wouldn’t have wanted it any other way,” Dan said.
Gillian chimed in.
“If they had to go too soon, it was that it was together, and we couldn’t imagine one without the other. Our only complaint is timing,” she said. “We knew we were so lucky, luckier than most, for the family we had.”
Spending time at the house has brought them comfort and helped them relive memories.
Greg, a longtime LTV Steel employee who worked in upper management in electrical and mechanical maintenance, told his kids they could be anything they wanted for Halloween, so long as it included a light. He wanted to make sure his kids were safe.
He rigged their costumes with battery packs. They dressed up as traffic lights, Christmas trees, and “a firefly with a glowing rump,” Gillian said.
When Gillian played field hockey at Miami University in Ohio, her parents would go to every game within a 10-hour drive.
Dan said his father, who was retired, was the best babysitter, teacher and grandfather. He’d walk down the street with his grandson, Ben, pointing out every animal, type of tree and bird.
Dana Lindsay, 24, the youngest of the Lindsay’s three children, said though she went to Stanford, she never went more than a month without seeing her parents.
They were at every lacrosse game when she played for Cleveland Heights High School, where the kids all went, her dad armed with a video camera.
“We spent our whole lives on video. Everything from school concerts to Christmas to family trips to sports games,” Dana said. “When I was in college, (Gillian) came out to visit me, and she brought a DVD from my dad that had three chapters. One was the family Christmas party, one was ‘Big snow in Cleveland’ and the third was ‘Tree down in St. Clairsville' … just to give me an idea of what was going on back home.”
He filmed every moment, big or small.
Greg made his daughters’ recruiting videos. Word of how good they were spread, and he continued recording videos for other young athletes aspiring to play in college.
Greg and Elise, 62, met in St. Clairsville. Greg, one of 10 children, moved there when he was a junior, and he told his kids that with Elise, it was love at first sight. He played basketball and football, and she was on the cheerleading squad.
Dana said growing up, she “was convinced my parents were the smartest people in the world.” Both would brag about their spouse’s talents.
“They just had a tremendous love for each other and for us and for life in general, family and friends,” Gillian said. “We kept saying over and over we knew and they knew how lucky we are to have that family, and we’d all often joke about how well we get along. … They were just the most devoted, supportive parents.”
Elise was director of International Student Services at Case Western Reserve University. The night she died, she had gone to the store to prepare for an event.
She was as dedicated to her job as she was to her kids.
Elise gave her home number to students, and they called for help and advice often.
“If someone walked in at 5:30 or six and it would take until 10 to get it done, she’d get it done,” Dan said.
“We’ve heard over and over, some students have reached out to us, and feel they’ve lost their second parents. She attended the students’ weddings, got to know their babies.”
She organized the big International Student Services Dinner each year, where students would prepare food from their countries and perform dances and more from their cultures.
But Dana said you wouldn’t know from talking to her how hard she worked.
“They were both so incredibly humble. (My mom) wouldn’t come home talking about work,” Dana said. “You’d have to ask about what was going on, keep questioning her. She was always asking about us.”
Dan said they both had a “certain affinity for helping others.”
Greg would help older neighbors paint and teach them how to use their computers and how to send an email. He didn’t just plow his driveway — he made sure his house up to Church of the Saviour, and the other sidewalks across the street were clear, “just to be fair,” Dana and Gillian said at the same time.
Gillian, who lives in Chicago with her husband, John, and Dana, who lives in San Francisco, were supposed to come in for Thanksgiving next week.
Elise had already bought food.
“We have all of these emails about how excited she was and getting things ready,” Gillian said.
Dana had recently told her mom how homesick she was.
“The last text message I have from her is 'Thanksgiving is not far away.'”
But the siblings didn’t talk about the fact they couldn’t spend one last holiday together with their parents.
“It’s such an unfortunate testament to mom and dad that the night we found out, the night I flew home, that even then, right in the shock of it, we just kept saying we’re still really lucky,” Dana said. “We have each other, and they did everything they could to teach us everything.”
“They knew we were on the right track,” Gillian said.
About 10 years ago, Elise and Greg bought a house on Lake Chautauqua.
“Mom had wanted a place by the water her whole life, and they finally achieved their goal,” Dan said. “There was nothing better for them than to enjoy a glass of wine, the sunset. Just the two of them, sitting at the end of the dock.”