SWANS ISLAND, Maine — As a little girl, Margaret Thompson George’s larger-than-life hero was her grandfather, Harrison Hunt, who late in life also turned out to be a hero for many of the lobster fishermen with extended families on Swan’s Island.
A physician who practiced for many years in Bangor, Dr. Hunt was 76 in 1954, when he spotted a classified ad in a journal published by the American Medical Association, seeking “an adventurous doctor for a part-time island practice.” That island turned out to be Swan’s Island, some 10 miles off Mount Desert Island.
The part in the ad about “part time” turned out to be wishful thinking. But “Hal” Hunt had the “adventurous” requirement nailed: In 1913 he accompanied the Crocker Land Expedition to the North Pole as a surgeon, returning to his native Maine four years later.
“I used to spend part of my summers with him and my grandmother on Swan’s Island as a girl,” says “Mardi” George, now 72 and living near where she grew up on Hancock Point. “The job came with a house that had a cistern, but no bathtub, and you used a bucket to flush the john.
“My grandfather slept on a couch in a hallway in the office part of the house with the light on. Everybody on the island knew that the door was never locked and they should come in and tap him on the shoulder if there was a problem, because he was deaf as a result of a virus he contracted at the North Pole,” she said.
“He did everything from deliver babies to pull teeth,” George said. “He would do emergency operations in the winter, when there was a nor’easter or a blizzard blowing and no way to get people to shore. He did whatever needed to be done.
“My grandparents were ‘off-islanders,’ but they were loved by the lobstering community there. He also served as the doctor for Frenchboro, which is the next island over from Swan’s. A friend would ferry him over if something needed to be done,” she said.
Hunt would often make his Swan’s Island “rounds” in an Old Town canoe with a small motor, and Mardi would often tag along. When local lobstermen would spot them on the water, they would get on their radio telephones to keep an eye on their progress and to be at the ready should anything go wrong.
“I remember that breakfasts on the Island were wonderful,” George says. “But then there was lunch. After breakfast, as we left the house to get into the canoe, Hal would grab a cold pancake or two, fold them in half, and stick them in his pocket. That was our dinner out at sea, and, if you were lucky, the pancake was only flavored by lint.”
Hunt stayed on Swan’s Island until 1960, up until his eyesight began to fail. He was 82 when he returned to Bangor and 89 when he died in 1967 from complications of pneumonia.
“My brother and I both sail and interact with lobstermen,” George said. “It’s not unusual for us to run into older fishermen who were delivered by our grandfather, or have someone in their family who was. Even now, in 2012, I can sail out to Swan’s Island and, if I mention that I’m Hal’s granddaughter, I’m greeted with open arms.”