OGUNQUIT, Maine — An Ogunquit icon who welcomed everyone from past presidents to year-round residents to the landmark restaurant Barnacle Billy’s died this week.
William “Billy” Tower, 86, who founded and operated Barnacle Billy’s in Perkins Cove for 52 years, died at his Ogunquit home Tuesday. Tower played a large role in shaping Perkins Cove into what it is today, and no matter who it was seated in his restaurant, whether former President George H.W. Bush or a young child he was placing a bib on, Tower treated all as family.
“That’s how I remember him,” said John Cavaretta, owner of Village Food Market, who first met Tower in 1966. “He was an icon in Ogunquit and this is just a huge loss for the community.”
Tower opened Barnacle Billy’s in 1961, offering high-quality seafood at a reasonable price. During his years at the restaurant, Tower had an effect not only on his community, but developed friendships worldwide. Cavaretta remembers what “a thrill” it was to shake hands with former Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev when he came to Barnacle Billy’s, just one of the many notables Tower hosted.
“He shaped the cove and everybody that went there knew him, including a lot of presidents and ex-presidents. He had pictures of all of them,” said Fire Chief Mark O’Brien. “There were people worldwide that ended up meeting Billy through this location. He was an icon in the cove and very well known around the world, actually.”
Social media sites buzzed Wednesday as news of Tower’s death hit the community. Just five hours after news of his death was posted on the Barnacle Billy’s Facebook page, more than 200 comments followed, with friends, former employees, and Barnacle Billy’s visitors from all over remembering a man they described as “a legend,” who was hard working and “larger than life.”
Terry Brookins Canning wrote that she first met Tower on a trip to Ogunquit 50 years ago, when he tied on a lobster bib for her first lobster. Now, Canning wrote, she takes her own children to Barnacle Billy’s for lobster.
“He has a long, long history in Ogunquit and was very loved and well respected. He was just a good man, a good businessman. People looked up to him,” said Karen Arel, president of the Ogunquit Chamber of Commerce. “All I can think of is Ogunquit is losing its best.”