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Gloucester remembers Joe Garland

Roger Payne speaking at the memorial event for Joe Garland. Lisa poole for the boston globe/STR

To sail “wing and wing’’ is to sail downwind with the foresail and the mainsail spread like the captain is “reading both pages,’’ as one seafaring buddy of Gloucester sailor Joseph Garland noted last weekend.

Garland, the Cape Ann columnist, historian, and activist who died Aug. 30 at age 88, was forever reading both pages. Friends and family took turns at the microphone at a celebration called “Remembering Joe’’ along the city’s harborfront, recalling the many ways the writer and civic booster lived an uncommonly rich life.

The author of a long list of books, most of them on North Shore history, Garland was remembered as a tireless advocate for Gloucester’s fishermen, natural preservation, and his city’s unique identity; as an irascible contrarian who nevertheless transcended his image as a “crusty Yankee caricature,’’ as his stepdaughter, Janet Carlson, told the audience; and as a doting grandfather who whittled a baton for a grandson studying to be a conductor.

A gray, misty day threatened to disrupt the event, but organizers put up a huge tent along the waterfront. As Mayor Carolyn Kirk began the ceremony with the observation that Garland, “never a fair-weather sailor,’’ would have loved the fog, rain and mud, the sun began to burn through the cloud cover.


Kirk read a tribute from Senator John Kerry, who wrote that the author “didn’t just chronicle Gloucester history, he was part of it.’’ The senator declared his admiration for Garland’s last major work, “Unknown Soldiers,’’ the culmination of the writer’s lifelong effort to process his experience serving in an infantry platoon in Europe during World War II, and he joked that the concerned citizen “never hesitated to offer his advice to a certain United States senator.’’

“Joe’s work, like the sea he loved, is eternal and booming,’’ Kerry wrote.

The tent was lined with tables featuring signed copies of Garland’s books and representatives from some of his favorite causes, such as Ocean Alliance and the Earth Society Foundation. Volunteers accepted loose-leaf pages - poems, anecdotes, and other remembrances - from Garland’s friends and acquaintances to be compiled in a “Book of Joe.’’ The smell of fried fish from a nearby restaurant wafted through the tent. Outside, chicken skewers were grilled on an oil-drum barbecue and a server ladled cups of chili.


Peggy Garland, one of Garland’s two daughters from his first marriage, got the crowd laughing when she noted that her father claimed he wanted to be dumped into the harbor when he died. “Due to environmental regulations, it was not to be,’’ she said, using a bit of the dry humor she surely got from her father.

Ironically, she said, one of the Garlands’ ancestors, a ship captain based in Charlestown in the 1600s, wanted the opposite: terrified of being buried at sea, he carried a coffin onboard in the event of his expiration. He did die at sea, and his crew put his body in the coffin and lashed it to the deck. Unfortunately, the coffin was soon washed overboard.

The celebration included several musical performances, ending with local singer Allen Estes singing “Not With Your Hands.’’ The song was inspired by “The Lone Voyager,’’ one of Garland’s first books, about the legendary Gloucester sailor Howard Blackburn, the “Fingerless Navigator.’’

Massachusetts Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr noted that he made an adjournment motion on Tuesday in memory of Garland, “a great Gloucesterman.’’ Journalist Sandy Tolan thanked his late mentor for “showing us what a citizen can be,’’ and he offered an amusing impersonation of Garland urging a friend’s reluctant young daughter to try some fish.


“Always the Joe sparkle,’’ he said. “He had a mission in everything he did, even trying to get an 8-year-old to taste a piece of fish.’’

At the close of the ceremony, cannons were fired and a procession of ships blew their horns simultaneously, sounding like bagpipes. It was a fitting salute to a great Gloucesterman.

James Sullivan can be reached at sullivanjames@verizon.net.