‘Watch is now over’ for longtime Scituate harbormaster
SCITUATE — Elmer Pooler weathered many storms at the helm of the harbormaster’s boat — always with a pipe in his mouth — but in his final patrol, the water in the harbor was calm.
A casket with Pooler’s body, flanked by members of the harbormaster’s office and his family, was loaded onto a boat in Scituate Harbor on Tuesday for his honorary “final patrol.” The boat then retraced the same route Pooler frequently took in his more than three decades on the job.
Pooler, the longest serving Scituate harbormaster, died peacefully on Thursday at 90 years old.
On Tuesday, Brad White, who founded New England Burials at Sea, volunteered to take Pooler on his final ride. White, after all, considers Pooler his mentor.
Elmer E. Pooler Jr. made his final ride on the vessel White Cap, sailing from the dock past the town pier and out to the lighthouse jetty, before returning to the harbor. About 15 boats gathered around the White Cap, carrying friends, family members, and Scituate residents.
From the back of the boat, behind Pooler’s casket, White read a John F. Kennedy quote: “We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch it, we are going back to whence we came.”
Four cannon blasts — one for each decade of service — rang out before the procession continued. Pooler served as harbormaster for 20 years and assistant harbormaster for 14.
A mile east offshore floats the Scituate Approach Gong, a marker that lets sailors know they are approaching the harbor. It was always one of Pooler’s favorite spots. There, at the end of the ceremony, two of his children and a granddaughter leaned over White Cap’s starboard side and together threw his pipe into the Atlantic.
White’s voice rang out over the ship’s radio: “Elmer’s watch is now over, that concludes his last patrol.”
Pooler’s life, on land and on sea, had been a wild ride. Before his 34-year tenure in the harbormaster’s office, he raced stock cars and motorcycles. He loved the speed. He won trophies, too, before a bad accident in the 1950s forced him to give up racing.
But the crash didn’t leave him timid. As harbormaster, Pooler was known to be fearless. He also worked as assistant harbormaster prior to moving up to the top job.
“He would go out in anything,” said Fran McMillen, who knew Pooler for more than 30 years. “He was a tough nut.”
Even in the roughest weather, he wasn’t afraid — especially when others were in danger, McMillen said. In a 2008 interview with the Globe, Pooler estimated he had a hand in saving more than 40 people during his long tenure.
In 1978, he made a rescue that would become one of everyone’s favorite Elmer stories.
A local Coast Guard boat had broken down outside the harbor during a severe storm. Pooler, whose shift had just ended, heard of the incident on his scanner. He hopped back into his 17-foot whaler boat and ended up towing the Coast Guard vessel, more than twice his boat’s size, back into the harbor.
In a letter to Coast Guard headquarters, two local officers described the rescue.
“If it were not for the courage of this man we probably would not have been able to get into the harbor without hitting the breakwater,” the report read.
The Scituate Coast Guard officers asked the national office to give Pooler credit for his “several acts of heroism in which this person put his life in danger in an effort to save others.”
But for Pooler, it was just another day on the job, said Bobby Greek, an assistant harbormaster.
“He was never off duty,” Greek said. “He was 24/7 and he never complained. He was an all-around good guy.”
Nobody knew the harbor like he did, Greek said. “He was everywhere,” he said.
And everywhere Pooler was, so was his pipe.
“He was always smoking a pipe,” said George Anderson, an assistant harbormaster. “He was smoking every hour he was awake and probably a couple hours when he was asleep.”
After the ceremony, Sharron Burnell, Pooler’s daughter, said he would have been pleased with the procession’s fleet of boats, but he would have shown it in his own simple way.
“He would be sitting there with his pipe in the side of his mouth, just grinning,” she said.
The evening’s large crowd — many of whom Pooler trained — that came out on short notice is a testament to how many lives he touched, Burnell said.
“This was their way of showing their gratitude, their appreciation,” she said.
And, Pooler would have some words for them, as well.
“He’d say, ‘continue to do your job well, because I’m watching you,’ ” Burnell said.