Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

Posted May 30, 2013, at 7:59 p.m.

EASTPORT – Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., 97, died unexpectedly May 28, 2013. His wife, Marie and niece, Kate Jans, were at his side. Oliver, born in Wakefield, Mass., was the oldest of the four children of Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. and Martha R. McCleary.

Due to the stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression, Oliver had to drop out of high school to help support his family. He earned money by cutting wood in Perry. He later returned to school and graduated with his younger sister, Olive, from Shead Memorial High School, class of 1936. Although two years older than most of his classmates, he was the next to last survivor of his graduating class at Shead. Now only Mrs. Doris Grady Newquist, sister of John Pike Grady, is alive from the class of 1936. The 1936 Passamaquoddy Oracle, yearbook, notes that Oliver was one of the most ambitious and dependable students and that he was the school’s best ‘dictionary’ and mathematician. In 1936, Oliver worked as a timekeeper and subinspector for the U.S. Engineers on Passamaquoddy Tidal Power Project, Eastport. He then transferred to Haverhill Seawall Project, Massachusetts, where he worked as chief timekeeper. He then moved to Philadelphia where he worked for Collins & Aikman Textiles, Midvale Steel and Sun Shipbuilding. In 1942 Oliver moved to Bangor, where he worked for the U.S. Employment Service. In 1943 Oliver’s career as a seaman began when he enrolled in the Merchant Marine Training School, Sheepshead Bay, N.Y. Oliver is a Merchant Marine Veteran of World War II. In January 1944 he began sea duty, sailing on nine different Liberty ships in convoys to Europe until the end of World War II. He received additional training at U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, King’s Point, Merchant Marine Officers Training School, New London, and at Port Revel Supertanker Training Centre, Grenoble, France. In 1949 Oliver obtained his Masters, Captain’s, license for all oceans and for vessels of unlimited tonnage. Oliver worked for Sprague SS Company, American South Africa Lines, U.S. Lines, Stockard SS Line, Bull Line, Gulf Oil Co., and Exxon Shipping. In 1985 after 43 years of Merchant Marine service and 34 years with Exxon, Oliver retired as senior master of Exxon Shipping. In January 1970 a Greek ship, the MS Thelissis, while sailing through the Gulf of Mexico, sent out a distress call. The Esso Boston responded. Chief Mate Oliver Holmes and three other crewmembers of the Esso Boston launched a lifeboat and rescued all 30 men aboard the burning Thelissis. The American Institute of Merchant Shipping presented Oliver a Ship Safety Achievement Award, which reads in part: “In recognition of an outstanding safety achievement for a feat which reflects credit upon the entire American Merchant Marine…rescuing 30 men whose lifeboat, in wind whipped seas, was pinned against a burning Greek ore carrier. Quick and skillful action saved all hands from death by fire or in the seas…” Oliver and the three other American rescuers also received an award from the Ambassador of Greece. On the day prior to his death, Oliver went for a walk up the street unassisted. He also went to the Friendly Restaurant for supper. At the Friendly, he ran into and reminisced with his good friend, Ralph Ray. He was a member of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, Eastport, where, when a boy, he sang in the choir. Oliver loved to read. As a boy he would spend countless hours reading at Peavey Memorial Library. His father worried that he spent too much time reading and told him that he could only go to the library three days a week. Oliver loved to travel. He visited ports all over the world as a seaman. In retirement, he took many cruises around the world and he leased yachts that he piloted up Ireland’s Shannon River. He also enjoyed visiting his stepsons, Robert E. P. Jones and Emily in Washington, D.C., and John Kevin Jones and Carolyn Freyer-Jones in Los Angeles. In his final years Oliver would not travel far and he particularly enjoyed the visits from the families of his niece, Kate, his niece Julia O’Neil, and his nephew Weston Baker.

Oliver will be dearly missed by his loving wife, Marie B. Holmes; brother, Theodore Holmes and wife, Mary, of Portland; daughter, Diane Holmes-Brandt and husband, David, of Kennebunk; grandchildren, Lisa Williams of Duxbury, Mass., Geoffrey Porter of Kennebunk, Bethany Porter of New Hampshire, Lucinda P. F. Jones of Los Angeles, and Anderson Z. P. Jones of Dunn Loring, Va.; five great-grandchildren; and many cousins, nephews and nieces will also miss him. He was predeceased by his first wife, Ada McKusick Allan; his parents; and sisters, Olive and Jackie.

Services will be announced at a later date. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Peavey Memorial Library, 26 Water St., Eastport, ME 04631; or Tides Institute & Museum of Art, P.O. Box 161, Eastport, ME 04631. Services by Mays Funeral Home, Calais & Eastport. Condolences and memories may be shared at www.maysfuneralhome.com.

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