April 11, 2013

Feature obituary: John 'Jeb' Stuart, 62, man of the sea who achieved sobriety

By Melanie Creamer mcreamer@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND – One week before John Stuart died, he wrote his obituary.

click image to enlarge

John Stuart

Family photo

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.

The obituary, published in Thursday's newspaper, starts with an eye-catching declaration of what he saw as his greatest success in life, though it inevitably led to his untimely death.

"In my life I have had many accomplishments," he wrote. "Personally, I believe my greatest accomplishment is that I will pass soberly. I have suffered a brief illness from alcohol abuse which I overcame and feel it to be one of my richest rewards."

John Stuart, known by most people as "Jeb," died Tuesday of liver and kidney failure. He was 62.

His daughter, Gretchen Stuart, of Roswell, Ga., said her father was sober at the time of his death.

"He was very proud of the fact that he was dying a sober man," she said. "He was on the right path and doing great. It's so unfortunate that his health began to fail."

Mr. Stuart's obituary highlights an impressive list of personal and professional achievements.

He was an independent lobsterman for more than 35 years. He named his lobster boat Babe after his mother and docked it at Fisherman's Wharf in Portland.

His children say he was well-known on the waterfront.

For many years, he fished the waters off Long Island and Cape Elizabeth.

At one point in his career, he fished an estimated 800 traps. Most recently, he was fishing a fraction of that.

His two daughters reminisced Wednesday about their years lobstering with their father.

"He called us his stern men," said his daughter, Jennifer Stuart Piacentini of Milton, Ga. "He raised us on the water. He played on the water, lived on the water and worked on the water."

Mr. Stuart's life-long affair with the ocean began when he was growing up in Montauk Point, N.Y. He graduated from New York Maritime College in 1973.

In 1978, he joined the Coast Guard. Mr. Stuart remarks in his obituary that he was "selected for lieutenant, two full stripes."

"I was very pleased with the work I did while in the Coast Guard, which included receiving the Commandant's Individual Commendation Medal," he wrote.

Mr. Stuart served in the Coast Guard for six years, including two years in the reserves.

In 1982, he joined Portland Pipe Line Corporation as an operations supervisor. He rose through the ranks to become oil movements manager.

He was married to Gerri Stuart for six years. He was married to his second wife, Joanne Stuart, for about 10 years and they lived on Long Island.

He operated his own business, John Stuart and Company on the Portland waterfront for nearly 20 years. He conducted safety inspections on tankers visiting Portland Harbor.

Joel Culver, a longtime friend, is taking over his business.

"Joel was his right-hand man for years," Piacentini said.

Mr. Stuart worked as a lobsterman throughout his life.

In recent years, he served as a captain for Catch a Piece of Maine. In addition to selling lobsters to the local co-op, he assisted with marketing and promoting Maine lobster.

"Jeb's outgoing personality and charismatic approach to daily operations on the sea gave customers who bought Maine lobster the feeling of what it's like to be a lobsterman in the Gulf of Maine," said John Ready, a co-owner of Catch a Piece of Maine. "Customers felt connected to him and felt like they knew Maine. He was a really good example of assisting and adding value to the Maine lobster industry and the great state of Maine."

Mr. Stuart was a longtime merchant mariner. In January, he took a job aboard a ship in Galveston, Texas.

Gretchen Stuart said he stopped drinking before he left for Texas. She said he became "weak and yellow" and returned to Maine with a firm commitment to stay sober.

He died Tuesday at the Togus VA Medical Center's Hospice and Palliative Care Unit.

"Sadly, the damage was done," Piacentini said. "He has always been such an amazing man, so witty and funny. His favorite thing to do was sit around and tell stories. He was a very talented, smart, funny man of the sea."

 

Staff Writer Melanie Creamer can be contacted at 791-6361 or at:

mcreamer@pressherald.com

 

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