CAPE ELIZABETH – It was a deal John Dexter made with his sons to ease their anxiety when he moved the family to Maine from Connecticut in 1955.

“I was 11 and my brother was 7,” recalled his son, John Dexter Jr. “We were kind of devastated. His way of making it OK was to tell us, if we moved, he’d get a boat.”

Get a boat they did, and in the ensuing years, the Dexter family became ardent sailors.

“I think we covered every square inch of Casco Bay,” said another son, Robert Dexter.

Mr. Dexter died Monday. He was 94.

Originally from Hartford, Conn., he was a member of Troop B, 110th Cavalry prior to serving in World War II. In the troop he did trick horseback riding to promote the unit, John Dexter Jr. said.

During the war, Mr. Dexter took to the air, flying C-47s over Europe and Africa as a member of the Air Transport Command. He continued his service in the Air Force Reserve as a pilot and commander of the Eastern Connecticut Group of the Civil Air Patrol.

In moving to Maine, his sons remember their times sailing together the most.

“He was a really fun person to sail with,” Robert Dexter said. “He was not so wrapped up in winning (races). If I made a mistake, it didn’t seem to bother him at all.”

As his boys grew up, they began racing against their father.

“He was just as proud if I beat him, as if he had beaten me,” John Dexter Jr. said.

But he did not beat his father often. He called Mr. Dexter a “wily sailor” and an “uncanny navigator.”

“He was very good (navigating) in the fog, even before the new technology, and I still don’t know how he did it,” he said.

Sailing is a tradition that has been passed on not only to his sons, but his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

In Cape Elizabeth, Mr. Dexter was a founding member and leader of the South Portland Cape Elizabeth Triad, a citizens’ group that works with local law enforcement to ensure the safety of elders in the community. John Dexter Jr. said his father was very dedicated to the group’s efforts.

“Dad was always one of those people who looked for a place to do something he thought was worthwhile,” he said.

In 2008, Mr. Dexter was honored by the “Remember Me Project” for his work as a life-long leader. While the award honored accomplishments throughout his life, his son thinks Mr. Dexter’s work with the triad group influenced the nomination.

Despite the pomp and circumstance around the award, Mr. Dexter was humbled by it, he said.

“It was certainly an honor, but there are so many people who have done so much here,” his son remembers his father saying at the awards ceremony, which was held in the Hall of Flags at the State House in Augusta.

John Dexter Jr. remembers his father as an honest and truthful man.

“As a son growing up, he never made a promise he couldn’t keep,” his son said. “He never broke a promise to my brother or me.”

Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

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