Craig Kingsbury Led Life to the Fullest

By KRISTEN HENSHAW

Craig Johnstone Kingsbury, 89, of Vineyard Haven, died Friday afternoon, August 30, at Windemere Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Oak Bluffs. He was attended by the caring and skilled staff. Craig died suddenly and without pain; he had been a patient at Windemere since April.

Craig was a farmer, fisherman, aquatic biologist, ox cart man, butcher, farrier, woodcarver, builder, breeder of exotic poultry, landscaper, longshoreman, able-bodied seaman, teamster, logger, stonemason, husband, father, storyteller and naturalist.

He was born at home in South Orange, N.J., on Oct. 10, 1912, with midwife Nancy Martin in attendance. Craig was the first of two children of Arthur Howard Kingsbury, a metallurgical engineer, and Anne Evelyn Johnstone Kingsbury, a schoolteacher. His sister, Anne Barbara, was born 15 years later.

Craig visited the Island from the earliest years of his life, enjoying summers at East Chop with relatives. While he had farmers, soldiers and whalemen in his family, it was the sea that drew him, and this Island that truly held him. He knew, he recalled, "This place said home to me when I was just out of three-cornered pants."

Craig attended public and private schools in Short Hills, N.J., and in Pennsylvania, until he took to the sea in his late teens. At 16, he and a friend, Terry Keogh, hired on as ship's boys aboard the Buccaneer, a five-masted schooner berthed in New York. They sailed up the Hudson to Haverstraw, N.Y., where they loaded bricks and tiles for Florida; from Florida to Jamaica, where they took on a cargo of tafia (pure sugar cane alcohol); it was labeled "road oil." "This was during the days of Prohibition," Craig once said, "and that ‘road oil' was prime bust head, pretty popular stuff." From there, it was back to Hoboken, N.J., where the "road oil" was unloaded by "the highway department boys."

Craig stayed with the Buccaneer for eight months, then shipped out on the Espirit de Santo de Toscano, a big fishing schooner whose captain and owner was Don Arturo Calderera. After some months fishing for cod, swordfish and mackerel off the Grand Banks and George's Bank, Craig came ashore and worked for blacksmith Orin Norton in Edgartown.

Craig was a hired hand in Orin's shop on the harbor, and he recalled, "In those days, back in 1930 and 1931, there were scallop sheds, a coal yard and a dock at the lower end of the Main street - not the yuppy crap that's there today. There were four big schooners going out of Edgartown then, the Hazel M. Jackson, the B.T. Hillman, Liberty and the Bertha S."

In l932, he met Prudence Susan Smith on the Vineyard. They were married in Milford, N.H., that same year. They lived at the Milford Creamery, a dairy farm owned by her family, where their daughter, Anna May, was born. Inland living was not for him, and Craig shipped out of Boston on the sloop Prima the following year. "We caught fish and smuggled ‘bug juice' on the side," he recalled. "Went on one voyage, and then Prohibition was repealed in 1933, and it ruined the business."

Craig then went to work cutting pulp wood in Gouverneur, N.Y., for the winter. He worked as a handler, moving wood with a team of oxen. After the winter, he went back to sea on the Blanche and Ida out of New Bedford, Manual Florio, captain.

Craig and Prudence divorced in 1936. He married again the same year, on his birthday, to Gertrude Florence Colling of Plainfield, N.J., and Harthaven. They had met the year before on the Vineyard.

Gertrude was a clothes model for Bergdorf Goodman in New York city. Close to six feet tall, she and Craig (who was six foot three inches) were a striking couple. They rented the Mingo property at Christiantown for a year after their marriage, then lived on a small farm bought for them as a wedding present from her father. This 27-acre farm on State Road in Vineyard Haven, Craig's home for the next six decades, cost $2,700. "Those were the hard times of the Depression, when land and a man's labor went for nothing," Craig remembered.

Craig and Gertrude were divorced in 1939; they had no children.

In the years that followed, Craig raised goats, pigs and produce on his small farm, worked on fishing boats and at any odd job available. He maintained trap lines in Island ponds, selling the pelts to off-Island buyers. When he wasn't fishing or farming, he worked as a stonemason or butcher, farrier or general laborer. He estimated once that he had built a mile of stone walls on the Island.

In 1941, he married Gertrude Elizabeth (Turk) Tereski, a Finnish girl from West Quincy. Turk was working as the pastry and bread baker at the Rideworth Lodge, West Chop, when they met. They were married in Brattleboro, Vt., and had four children: Elsie Johnstone, Trina Ellen, Kristen Jane and William Urho. Turk worked for many years at the Martha's Vineyard Hospital as a licensed practical nurse, winning favor as a dedicated and nurturing professional in the obstetrics department.

Craig was the shellfish warden of Tisbury from 1954 to 1962, and again from 1965 to 1968. He served two terms as a Tisbury selectman, from l973 to 1979. In August of last year, a chair was dedicated in his honor at a selectmen's meeting in recognition of his service to the town.

In 1974 he was hired by Universal Studios to help Robert Shaw talk and act like "a fish pier low life, a filthy wharf rat," as Craig termed it. Shaw was to star as a character named Quint in Jaws, the movie filmed on the Vineyard and based on Peter Benchley's bestseller. Audiotapes were made of Craig's voice and colorful syntax for Shaw to listen to and learn from, with wildly successful results. Carl Gottlieb, primary screenwriter for the movie, incorporated much of Craig's singular language style and speech patterns into the finished script. Steven Spielberg, Jaws director, gave Craig a speaking part as local fisherman Ben Gardner. It is a death mask of Craig that rolls from a boat and affords moviegoers one of the scariest moments of the film.

Craig pursued various trades until, in the late l950s and early l960s, he worked for Bill Merry Landscaping. Working hard in the outdoors, building ponds and stone walls and using his vast knowledge of growing things seemed a perfect niche for the man. Craig started his own landscaping operation after he learned how to drive a truck. Even after mastering control of a motorized vehicle, he still maintained the slower pace of animal-powered wagons, and was always followed by a parade of cars as he traveled the Vineyard roads. For those impatient drivers behind him who used their horns and fists to encourage him to greater speeds, Craig would mutter some choice (and unprintable) epithets, punctuating them with expulsions of snuff juice from the truck window.

After an accident that made a total loss of his truck, snapped a telephone pole in half and gave him a bruised sternum, Craig gave up his driver's license. He traded his truck for a three-wheeled bicycle, becoming a familiar sight on State Road, pedaling along barefoot, a bag of chicken feed or his groceries in the back basket.

He worked at landscaping and stone masonry and other outdoor occupations until he retired in 1995, giving up his last client when he was 83 years old. After that, he maintained his garden and small farm on State Road, raising sheep, ducks and chickens. He was always available to give advice about animals, plants, things natural and not.

Craig was preceded in death by Turk, his wife of 52 years. He is survived by a sister, the Rev. Dr. Anne K. LeCroy of Johnson City, Tenn.; five children and their spouses, Anna May Parker, widow of John, of Warren, Me.; Elsie K. Gilman, wife of John, of Shelburne; Trina E. Kingsbury of Chilmark; Kristen K. Henshaw, wife of Richard, of Wakefield and William U. Kingsbury, husband of Victoria, of Mill Valley, Calif.

He is also survived by 10 grandchildren and their spouses, Suzanne Forman, wife of Daniel, of Yorktown Heights, N.Y., James Parker of St. George, Me., Jeffrey Parker, husband of Terri of Hillsboro, NH, Richard Crockett, husband to Marika, of Warren, Me., Army Lieut. Col. Samuel K. Millett, husband of Silke Jauke, of Germany and Montana, C.J. Millett, husband to Lissa, of Marblehead, J. Davies Millett, husband of Dawn, of Salem, Craig K. Henshaw and Elizabeth B. Henshaw of Wakefield and Craig W. Kingsbury of Mill Valley, Calif.

Craig leaves eight great-grandchildren, Katherine and Matthew Forman of Yorktown Heights, N.Y.; Rebecca Parker of St. George, Me.; Daniel, Torrey and Andrew Parker of Hillsboro, N.H., Dylan and Ryan Crockett of Warren, Me., Matthew, William, Robert and James Millett of Marblehead; two nieces and one nephew and their spouses, Bobbi Lynn Puckett of Knoxville, Tenn., Navy Master Chief Petty Officer Philip LeCroy, husband to Diane, of Virginia Beach, Va. and Kathi A. LeCroy-Smith, wife to Jeff, of Jonesboro, Tenn.; a great-niece, Amy LeCroy of Virginia Beach, Va. and a great-nephew, Jay C. Smith of Jonesboro, Tenn.

Craig's cremated remains will be buried next to those of his wife Turk under a mimosa tree at the farm. Interment will be private. There will be a barefoot celebration of his life on Saturday, Sept. 14, at 1 p.m. at the Martha's Vineyard Agricultural Hall on Panhandle Road in West Tisbury. Everyone is invited to come, take off their shoes and share a story with the many who lament his passing.

In his memory, people are asked to make donations to Hospice of Martha's Vineyard, P.O. Box 2549, Oak Bluffs, MA 02557, to a charity of their choice and to give their votes to elect Gore in 2004.