VIP Spotlight – Gary Reilly

Setareh Nouriboshehri, Community Volunteer Ambassador (CVA)

VIP Gary posing in front of the Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo statue.

It’s VIP Spotlight time! We figure that it’s not an easy task to stay connected with every single volunteer at the park (especially when schedules conflict), and quarantining is definitely not helping. Starting this week, we will post a new interview on VIP-Voice so that you can hear from familiar faces and perhaps meet new people in your volunteer community. To kick us off, we’re starting with VIP Gary Reilly!*

• Setareh: Gary, how is quarantining going for you?
• Gary: Oh, not bad. I miss seeing the park. But it also reminds me of my childhood. I can remember some quarantines as a kid.

• S: When did you have to quarantine before?
• G: Well, in various ways. When I was growing up, it was the fifties. So, nobody swam in the month of August because you didn’t want to get polio. And periodically, houses in the neighborhood would have red placards from the Board of Health. They’d have to quarantine themselves for measles or scarlet fever. And then, when I was in law enforcement, especially in corrections, that’s when AIDS first hit. If you recall, nobody knew exactly how AIDS fully transmitted. And some of the joints I worked at, about 20-30% of the inmate populations were HIV positive. So, I’ve gotten used to putting on personal protective equipment and dealing with unknowns.

• S: How did you get started in law enforcement?
• G: When I dropped out of college, I needed a job, so I got a job as a security guard in Boston. I definitely saw some interesting cases, and I liked jobs that were a little bit out of the ordinary. I’ve never been a nine-to-five guy and am definitely more of an old adrenaline junkie. After that, I gravitated towards law enforcement. I got into corrections first in the state of Connecticut in ’77. While I was doing that, I became a part-time cop in ’81 in Ellington, and then switched to Somers in ’85. I found it all rather enjoyable.

• S: I can imagine!
• G: I retired from corrections in Connecticut in ’97, went full-time in Somers, retired in ’03, did a year as a crossing guard in Manchester to get a little extra money, and then did a year in Iraq with the US military. When I came back, I moved to Arizona and worked nine months for a private security gig on the border and did some hurricane relief security work down in Texas. After that, I came to the conclusion that I had it with carrying a gun. Ever since then, I haven’t carried a working firearm and I’ve enjoyed it. It’s a new “me”.

• S: I can kind of see why you dress up as a 16th-century conquistador. How did all of this lead you to volunteer at Cabrillo?
• G: Well, Cabrillo has been my second volunteer gig at a museum-type setting. When I totally retired in Arizona, I became a docent at the Titan Missile Museum and gave tours of the missile silo. And I found that I enjoyed that. So, when I left Arizona and came out here, Keith [Lombardo] kept saying “You should come volunteer at Cabrillo.” Eventually, I took him up on it and volunteered. I liked the living history aspect of it, and I had more of a background to do the reenacting. It grounded me to portray 16th-century soldier more than most people can just because of some of the stuff I’ve run into over the years.

• S: What has been your favorite memory since then?
• G: Oh, it’s a combination of things. I like when we get a good group of kids into the war cry thing I do. That always cracks me up. The kids enjoy it, and the adults with them really get a kick out of it.

• S: What if you were the park’s Superintendent for the day? What would be your first and last action item?
• G: Well, I used to be a lieutenant so first thing I would do is review what happened the day before and check in with the staff to get grounded. And last action item would be to make sure I didn’t leave anything pending.

• S: I don’t know what I was expecting, but that was really practical.
• G: Well, I’ve been there and done that!

• S: You mentioned before that you’ve done WWII living history volunteering at the park in the past?
• G: I got to see the bunker down at the Bayside Trail one day, so I started doing some research. Before I got locked into the Spanish conquistador role, I made a habit to hike the Bayside Trail. Every once in a while, I would open the searchlight bunker, hang around a while, and talk to visitors about the searchlight housing. I knew I wasn’t about to cut my hair [to fit the WWII uniform regulations], so I switched to the 1600s.

• S: What’s your favorite spot at the park?
• G: If anything, it would be when I take my walk up at the lighthouse. I walk all the way to end, by Whale Watch Overlook. That little section is nice to look at.

• S: Walk us through a typical of volunteering for you, before the park close down.
• G: Show up, change into the costume, walk outside, and hang around the Visitor Center. I try to get an early walk up to the lighthouse and around. I float between the Cabrillo monument and the Visitor Center. If I see any Navy ships coming and going, I run down to the Visitor Center and make an announcement [over the PA system] on the type of ship. Then I get lunch and repeat. If there’s school groups, I ask the rangers if they need any help. If they do, I’ll put on a little shtick for the school groups. On the weekends, if the San Salvador is coming out, I’ll go up to the monument as it’s passing by. They’ll fire off one of their guns, and I’ll return the salute by dipping the flag I’m carrying. Every once in a while, I’ll do a formal program in the afternoons on Saturdays.

• S: What’s been the most interesting conversation you’ve had with a visitor?
• G: One time, I was describing one of the Navy vessels that was leaving [the bay] to a fair amount of visitors who were interested. And afterwards, a guy came up and started a conversation. Turned out, he had been the captain of that ship!

• S: What do you miss most about the park?
• G: The people and the routine. It’s a lot of fun. If it wasn’t, I wouldn’t volunteer to do it!

• S: What changes have you seen in yourself since you’ve started volunteering at the park?
• G: I know a lot more on the subject matters that I cover. I had a fair basis of knowledge before I started, but I get asked a lot of questions [by the visitors] that I may not know. So, I go back, and I look it up! I’m much more knowledgeable than when I began. Right now, I’m reading a book on Charles V to get a better feel for that dude. I have a library of Medieval and early Renaissance [books] and I’m heavily biased on the military affairs and conquistadors.

• S: What a perfect segue to the next question: If you could publish a book for Cabrillo National Monument, what type of book would you publish?
• G: A general military history of Point Loma, even though only been two incidences that I’m aware of where guns were fired in anger. But it would be to give people the viewpoint from 1542 all the way to present day and how the military has shaped the general history of the area.

• S: Ok, a little bit of a gear change here. What is your first memory in the outdoors?
• G: I’ll give you a funny one. The first five years of my life, I lived in Brooklyn, New York. We didn’t travel much. But the first time we left Brooklyn, I was surprised to see trees without small fences around them!

• S: If you had a chance to be a pro or semi-pro at anything, what would you pick?
• G: I like to think I was already a pro at law enforcement. I’ve overcome some rather interesting situations with professionality, and I’m happy with that.

• S: It sounds like you got a lot of out it.
• G: Two shoulders, a hip, and a retirement!

• S: What were you like in high school?
• G: A jock. A little bit on the crazy side, but not overly, I don’t think.

• S: If you could tell your high school self anything knowing everything you know now, what would you say?
• G: Be just a tad bit more aware of consequences of certain actions.

• S: You have the mic in the park auditorium, and everyone else can magically fit in the building. What’s one thing you can teach us in 2 minutes or less?
• G: I’d pick two or three Hollywood myths pertaining to war, and I would demystify them.

• S: Alright. Lightening round time. Tea or coffee?
• G: Coffee.

• S: What do you put in your coffee?
• G: Nothing. If I wanted a milkshake, I’d order a milkshake.

• S: That was the least surprising response out of all of these. Sunsets or sunrises?
• Gary: 51/49, sunsets.

• S: Paper or digital calendar?
• G: Paper.

• S: Cake or pie?
• G: Depends. Depends on the cake and depends on the pie.

• S: What is your favorite city in the world?
• G: Boston.

• S: Would you rather be able to speak to animals or speak every language in the world?
• G: Probably animals.

• S: Favorite childhood book?
• Gary: I don’t remember the title, but it was a book on sperm whales. Don’t ask me why.

• S: Ok, last question. Least favorite flavor?
• G: Licorice. Any type.
-End of Interview-
*some text has been altered during transcription.

I definitely learned a new thing or two hearing from Gary, and it’s been a blast to stay connected with him. Would you like to be interviewed for a VIP Spotlight, too? Let us know by emailing us at We’d love to hear from you!

2 thoughts on “VIP Spotlight – Gary Reilly

  1. Well, how much fun is this! Thanks, kids. Very interesting to learn these things about Gary. He’s good people.

    Happy (if not a bit goofy) days, everybody. Karen

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