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Sorry for the late posting friends, I find myself struggling to find my words this morning. The WHC family received terrible news last night.
Our dear John Skelson passed away yesterday, and suddenly our beloved friend is gone.
John’s generosity spread beyond sharing his photos with us. John and his bride Phyllis would attend every Hidden Harbor Tour that they could, helping with holding signs and answering questions at dockside.
On board, you would always find Skelson on the bow – what I have always called – the photographers spot – taking photos and talking “shop” with fellow harbor enthusiasts and greenhorns alike.
What you may not know is that the Skelson’s would journey from their home in Staten Island into the city to photograph our indoor events like WHC’s annual fundraising gala and our “film night” in the early spring, and as some of you have read, even write posts about them for this blog.
At the annual Tugboat Race, you would find John hard at work, shooting the mighty vessels as they churned up the Hudson, capturing the expressions of all the kids competing in the spinach-eating contest, photos of lines in mid-toss, the tugs tied up at Pier 84…
When I got the news last night of his passing, my first thought was steeped in denial. “But, Barque Peking is going to be hoisted on a heavy-lift ship in the spring, I thought. You can’t miss that, John!”
It saddens me to think he will not be working at “the office” that day.
Fair Winds and Following Seas, John Skelson. I am richer for having known you. Rest in Peace my friend.
by Mai Armstrong
Dear friends and readers:
My apologies for having been silent over the past two days. As many of you have heard by now, we have suffered a devastating loss.
Captain John W. Doswell, our captain, our North Star, our guiding light passed away on Friday 2 January, 2015 and the WHC family and the whole waterfront community has been reeling from the news.
I have barely parsed the news of his passing and am now faced with this daunting task of writing a eulogy befitting of my friend. So many things to say about Capt. John…where to start?
Captain John W. Doswell
John Doswell was a bona fide superhero. He created beauty from decay, he restored life to stagnant waters, he built people into a community, where before there was none.
You could always find John working. The man never stopped doing. There were piles of documents neatly stacked in the “dungeon” – the basement office from where Capt. John would steer the constant stream of waterfront projects, events, educational programs, working harbor tours and more. With that wry smile of his, he worked tirelessly on, even when he discovered he was ill.
John was so passionate about the ‘6th boro’ he dedicated the last decade of his career to our waterfront. He founded Friends of Hudson River Park, and Pier 84 is what it is today because of him. He was an integral member of many illustrious waterfront organizations and committees – North River Historic Ship Society, Community Board 4, Save Our Ships New York and the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, to name a few.
He was one of the original group of friends who bought the Fireboat John J. Harvey, and helped to restore her to working glory. He was onboard the fireboat, pumping water onto Ground Zero on 9/11 and he was onboard (with a flask of hot chocolate under his arm) safeguarding her during Hurricane Sandy.
But for me, he was the ‘guy who made things happen’. As executive director of the Working Harbor Committee, John would orchestrate the most amazing extravaganzas. 22 years of Tug Boat Races, international ship visits (including a 16th century replica of a Spanish Galleon), OpSail 2012, where part of the challenge was to find berthing for dozens of vessels from around the world.
Only one man could make it all happen. Doswell.
John would narrate every single harbor tour, enthralling boat-loads of passengers with details about the workings of our magnificent harbor, peppered with stories of lighthouse keepers and fireworks disasters. The thought of never hearing his ‘fireworks story’ again as we approach Erie Basin, makes me immeasurably sad.
If you wanted to know pretty much anything about New York Harbor, you could ask John. I will always regret not asking John more stuff. I thought I had more time.
But beneath all the hustle and bustle stood this really great man. Smart, funny and sincere, John was a kind, loving and supportive husband, father and friend.
His love and passion for the waterfront paled in comparison to his love for his daughter Jhoneen and his life-partner wife Jean. In perfect sync, they were always together, whether working to save a historic ship from scrap or traveling together to exotic seas. Their love and respect for each other so evident and beautiful.
John, always gracious, welcomed everyone with open arms and an open heart. He never spoke an unkind word about anyone, or lost his temper, that I know of. His positivity permeated everything he did.
Every obstacle was a challenge we could overcome, every set back merely a springboard to success, in every dark cloud he would see only the silver lining.
We have lost a great teacher. We have lost a great leader. We have lost a great man…
Fair Winds Captain John.