I remember the exact moment I met Captain John. I was planning a trip to St. John (well before News of St. John came along) and was looking for something special to do while on island. After reading countless fantastic reviews online, I decided to spend the day out on Palm Tree Charters and booked the trip through a woman who would soon become one of the most special people in my life – Island Sue.
The day was January 30, 2012. I didn’t know what to expect, so I picked out what I thought was the perfect day charter outfit – a striped strapless dress, a large brimmed black hat and pretty big wedges. (I now know how silly I must have looked.) I strolled up the dock and upon meeting John immediately asked him if I had dressed the part.
“I think of that day often,” John wrote to me on November 24. “If I could transfer a movie from my brain, I would show you. I can remember saying, ‘you gotta lose the hat and shoes.’”
Captain John later told me he knew that moment that we’d be pals for life. He was right.
I’m going to let you in on a little News of St. John secret here… When I first took over the blog back in April 2013, I didn’t even live on island. I lived in Connecticut, held a full-time corporate job there and only visited the island every few months. News of St. John was simply something I did at night for fun. Soon, however, my visits became more frequent, every other month, then every month, and eventually, I had my own place on island. During my early days at News of St. John, Captain John served as my friend and confidant. I’d share gossip with him, bounce story ideas off of him, and he would give me his honest opinion even if it wasn’t what I wanted to hear. I still can’t believe he didn’t want to be part of mine and Tom Larson’s St. Johnopoly game…
Captain John and Island Sue adopted me in a way, not that they had much of a choice. With my family and friends often back in Connecticut, John and Sue would meet me for drinks or simply to keep me company. Sue and I would chat about our love of St. John and she always encouraged me to follow my dreams. You see, Sue lived on island for a full two years before John joined her … much like the situation I was in at the time.
I soon dubbed John my “Island Dad” and Sue my “Island Mom.” Sue was quick to point out that she was more like a big sister. I agreed, but said it was odd that my dad was married to my sister. But I went with it.
John had been complaining about back pain for a good part of 2014. He attributed it to being knocked down when the Palma Bella, his beloved Palm Tree Charters boat, hit a big swell out near Peter Island one day on charter. Sadly, John learned back in October that there was more to the pain than the big swell. He had cancer. I was devastated. We all were devastated.
John began treatment in Florida and soon came back to St. John where he received treatment over in St. Thomas. The daily trips were grueling, he and Sue said, but he was happy with the facility and always spoke highly of his doctors. I always held out hope that John would get better and be back on the water where he belonged.
On November 24, I learned John sold Palm Tree Charters. I immediately sobbed. That’s when the reality of John’s situation really set in. I called him a short while later and spoke with him while he was undergoing a chemotherapy treatment on St. Thomas. Once again, John praised the doctors, but sadly confirmed that his days on the water were over. His bones were too brittle, he told me.
Over the next several months, John had good days and John had bad days. We took advantage of the good days and hopped in my Jeep for some island exploring. John may not have been able to get to his favorite spots like Pirate’s Bight, the Willy T or the Soggy Dollar Bar, but I was going to do my best to get him as close as possible. So we drove. And we drove some more.
We soon learned that the bench out past Concordia is a great spot to check out Norman Island. It was on that bench, as we were looking out toward Ram Head and into the Caribbean Sea, that John told me about meeting the love of his life, Island Sue, back on Long Island roughly 40 years ago.
John and I quite possibly could have driven up and down every road on this island together. We drove down to Privateer Point for the first time together and quickly realized it was an amazing place to check out the Indians, the Willy T and Pirate’s Bight – three spots near and dear to John’s heart. We stared at those places for what seemed like forever. Those are memories I will treasure forever.
John and I loved to cruise along North Shore Road, stopping at many of the beaches and overlooks along the way, as we checked out the megayachts and talked about all of the fun we had over at the Soggy Dollar Bar, especially that one time we snuck over for a few Presidentes and shots of Cruzan when we were supposed to be photographing St. John by boat – sorry Sue!
As John grew weaker, our road trips ended and instead we’d hang out in his living room and shared stories about our love of St. John. We agreed that St. John is quite possibly the best place on earth.
John, Sue and I had a great day together last Friday. We hung out in the living room with his two cats, Buzz and Sedi, and watched videos of John and Sue dancing at last year’s Food Fair. Nothing made John happier than dancing beside Island Sue. We watched a video that his grandson Luke sent to him that morning – that truly made John smile – and we watched videos about St. John. We chatted about lots of stuff including our island’s desperate need for rain and gossiped a bit of course.
John told me last Friday he wished he could take a magic pill, so he could feel better again. I would have given anything to make that happen for him.
Over the past week, John grew weaker. When I stopped by on Wednesday, I told him I was happy to see him. I got a faint “you too” out of him and that truly made me smile.
Sadly John passed away early this morning with his beloved Island Sue by his side. Beside the love of his life, Miss Island Sue, John leaves a son John, grandson Luke, daughter-in-law Debbie and sister Susan..
John was one of the kindest, most remarkable men I’ve ever known. I will truly miss him. This island will truly miss him.