Islanders recall Vinalhaven lobsterman as devoted dad, friend

Posted Aug. 14, 2014, at 9:37 a.m.
Last modified Aug. 14, 2014, at 8:20 p.m.

VINALHAVEN, Maine — Jeremy Philbrook was remembered Thursday as a devoted father, hard worker and a friend to many on this island community 12 miles off Rockland.

Philbrook, 36, a married father of three girls, died at sea Wednesday. The cause of his death has not yet been released but he was found in the water near his unmanned 29-foot-long lobster boat Outnumbered shortly before 2 p.m. Wednesday.

Sam Bickford, who is 2 years older than Philbrook, said he has known Philbrook since the younger man entered kindergarten. They remained friends throughout school and played basketball, including on the team that won the 1994 western Maine Class D championship. Philbrook and Bickford both played the center position because they were the tallest members of the team.

Philbrook worked as a sternman aboard Bickford’s lobster boat for two years. Bickford said his friend was the hardest-working sternman he has even known.

In 2008, Philbrook purchased a boat and went out on his own.

Bickford was best man at Philbrook’s wedding to Keeley McCarthy in 2008 which was held the same day that Hurricane Kyle passed offshore, Bickford recalled.

Philbrook had three daughters, two from his first marriage. His youngest daughter will turn 1 year old on Friday, Bickford said.

Philbrook was a quiet person and a great provider, his friend recalled.

“He was the best father there could be. He was an absolutely devoted dad,” Bickford said.

Bickford saw Philbrook twice on Wednesday. He said he went by his friend in Carver’s Harbor and they waved to each other. The fog was thick but it lifted temporarily, and at 9 a.m. he saw Philbrook about 50 yards away, hauling traps. They waved again.

The fog then rolled back in and Philbrook headed south while Bickford went north. That was the last time he saw his friend.

A group of lobstermen hauled the Outnumbered out of the water Thursday, Bickford said. On Sunday, they will go out and haul in his lobster traps.

“We’re a small community. We are very close. We have each other’s backs,” Bickford said about the town of 1,165 year-round residents.

High school classmate Kelsey Barker of Vinalhaven said Thursday she was numb with pain over the loss of Philbrook.

“He was incredibly smart. He also would do anything for you,” she said.

The U.S. Coast Guard reported Wednesday that Philbrook’s body was spotted in the water by another lobsterman near the Outnumbered about 1 mile off Vinalhaven, between Little Hurricane Island and Big White Island. The call came in to the Coast Guard at 1:43 p.m.

The Marine Patrol responded with two boats that were conducting training exercises in Rockland Harbor. The Coast Guard sent one of its boats from the Rockland station.

The Maine Marine Patrol took Philbrook to Carver’s Harbor, where he was declared dead by emergency medical services responders, the Coast Guard reported.

The Maine Medical Examiner’s Office reported an autopsy was done Thursday but the office was not ready to release the findings.

The Coast Guard, which is leading the investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death, reported Thursday it could take time and might be several days before any more information is released.

U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, offered his condolences Thursday and issued a statement.

“My thoughts go out to family and friends of Jeremy Philbrook — particularly his wife, Keeley, and their three daughters. I had the pleasure of meeting Keeley, her mother and her sister last weekend while on Vinalhaven for a meeting with local lobstermen. As a family, they have suffered a terrible loss and I hope that they take some measure of comfort in knowing that they have the support and love of their community,” Michaud said in the statement.

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