SARATOGA SPRINGS — A simple sign is fixed to the glass at the entryway door where Gail Purdy Brophy operated her business for a generation. “In remembrance of Gail,” reads the sign inside the Congress Street Plaza, “we honor her lifelong dedication to Purdy’s and the local community.”
Decorated golfer, accomplished speed skater, longtime Spa City business owner and community member Gail Purdy Brophy died Feb. 23. She was 77.
“I’m just honored to have known her and to have been her friend,” said Kent Tarkleson, owner of Tark’s Indoor Golf Club in Wilton. They’ve been friends the past 15 years. “Such a wonderfully generous person; she’s going to be immensely missed.”
For more than a half-century Brophy operated Purdy’s Discount Wine and Liquor store, sited at a number of locations throughout the city - including Caroline Street for seven years and Broadway for 26 years, before moving to Congress Street Plaza in 1997.
She was born in Glens Falls in 1942. Her career as a businesswoman launched in the fall of 1963, when she quit college and returned home to run her father’s liquor store after he became ill. A few years later, she married James “Bud” Brophy to whom she was wed for 28 years, until he passed away at age 79 in 1998.
Across the decades, Brophy has employed more than 200 employees, generated millions of dollars in sales tax revenue for the city and county and has supported more than 1,000 local charity events.
Brophy had been a member of Saratoga Winter Club speedskating since she was a teenager. She won more than 100 titles in the northeast, including winning several Eastern States Championships, New England Championships, Eastern Seaboard Championships, New York State Championships, and the Lake George International Silver Skates. She won seven National or North American divisional championships.
At age 16, she competed in the first U.S. Olympic Trials for speed skating women in 1959, and in 1964 competed in the U.S. Olympic Trials for the Olympic Games - in both cases narrowly missing the Olympic team by one spot. One year later, Brophy secured the top prize in 1965 North American Indoor Short Track Championships, as well as being crowned champion at the Diamond Trophy Indoor in Lake Placid.
Perhaps her greatest athletic achievements came as a golfer - participating in the U.S. Women’s Open in 1960 and 1961 and emerging as the New York State Women’s Amateur champion in 1961, the youngest at the time to ever win that championship.
When she left college to run the family business, she put her sports career on hold. In 2006, she returned to the golfing world and won the New York State Super Senior State Championship in 2007 and 2008.
For the past eight years, Brophy dealt with pulmonary fibrosis, but refused to let that hold her back.
“No matter what she was going through, she kept practicing, kept working on her game. She just loved it so much she didn’t want to give it up,” Tarkleson says. “She was more passionate than anyone I’ve ever known. Dedicated and determined to succeed. As she started to struggle, she would still practice and she would tell me: I may not be getting any better, but I’m not getting any worse. That says it all.
“She was tough, she was gritty and absolutely a wonderful person. She was world-class.”