February 17, 2013

Feature Obituary: Charles 'Chip' Homer Willauer, 74, patriarch of Prouts Neck

By Edward D. Murphy emurphy@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

This story was updated at 9:20 a.m. 2/17 to correct that the Homer exhibit set a monthly record.

Chip Willauer

PASSAGES

Each day the newsroom selects one obituary and seeks to learn more about the life of a person who has lived and worked in Maine. We look for a person who has made a mark on the community or the person's family and friends in lasting ways.

Most Maine summer communities have a heart and soul at their center, someone who keeps the traditions alive and helps knit together, year after year, families that begin to range far and wide from that summer place.

For Prouts Neck in Scarborough, Charles Homer Willauer was that heart and soul.

For 57 years, Mr. Willauer was the "King of the Sing," the Sunday night community sing-a-longs at the Prouts Neck Yacht Club, a tradition that began behind drawn blackout curtains during World War II.

He was the gentle reminder of children on July Fourth that it was time to decorate their bikes for the parade. The awards for the community's annual talent show are called the "Chippies," drawn from Mr. Willauer's nickname, Chip.

And, yes, he was the one the teenagers groused about dragging them out of bed for 8 a.m. flag-raisings and cannon shots -- the early wake-up call they will miss next summer after Mr. Willauer passed away Thursday at 74.

At Prouts Neck, "he was a patriarchal figure for more than just the family," said David Willauer, Mr. Willauer's nephew.

And, yes, Mr. Willauer's middle name came from those Homers -- his great-granduncle was artist Winslow Homer, whose Prouts Neck works became American masterpieces.

Mr. Willauer eventually came to inherit Homer's Prouts Neck studio and kept it open to the public, quite literally, said David Willauer, by never locking the doors and leading informal tours of the space until selling it to the Portland Museum of Art in 2006.

The museum spent six years renovating the studio and reopened it last September, when the museum kicked off "Weatherbeaten: Winslow Homer and Maine." The Homer show set a record for the month of December.

"Chip was able to see it opened to the public last fall," David Willauer said. "This was a big year for Chip."

David Willauer said his uncle was an interior designer, a skill that drew on the artistic bent in the family. With an office in Boston, he worked for families up and down the East Coast.

"Whether it was decorating a room or hanging a painting or tying a bow tie, his attention to detail was a trademark," David Willauer said, and it wasn't unusual for him to spend an hour setting a table for a summer dinner, making sure the centerpiece and the silver were perfect.

That attention came through on other family matters as well. When children would send thank-you notes to Mr. Willauer for gifts, the notes would come back a few days later, with the mistakes noted and corrected with a red pen.

Willauer said his uncle saw the studio as a public place, even when it was in private hands, and tried to maintain it, adding reproductions and artifacts from Homer over the years.

But it soon became hard to keep up with the maintenance, Willauer said, so his uncle started talking to the museum about selling it and restoring it to the configuration it had when the artist worked there, with two bedrooms in a loft above the studio space and a small kitchenette removed.

The last year "was a poignant year because it was a culmination of all that work that the museum did, and Chip was very active in the restoration and was at the opening in September," Willauer said.

It promises to be a poignant year at Prouts Neck this summer as well, after the passing of a man most considered the "mayor" of the community, Willauer said.

"I think the traditions will continue, but it will never be the same," he said.

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

emurphy@pressherald.com

 

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