James Thomas Lynch: a man of many talents
James Thomas Lynch became known as one of the crew on many family private yachts, but when in this area the ladies all considered him the smoothest ballroom dance partner around. He was frequently seen at dance halls locally, like Oakland Park, where his dancing abilities were admired.
On July 7, 1907, in Syracuse, N.Y., he was born to Anna Thompson Lynch and Cornelius Lynch. Lynch attended grammar and high school at the House of Providence in Syracuse, N.Y., and taught by the Sisters of Mercy and the Christian Brothers. After graduating from high school he attended the Christian Brothers Seminary in New York for two years. After leaving the seminary in the late 1920s, he came to Camden and remained a resident for the rest of his life.
In 1942, he married Madell Leonard of our town.
His first job in Camden was on the construction of the Camden Public Library grounds and the Garden Theater under the well-known Landscape Architect Fletcher Steele, whom Mary Louise Curtis Bok hired to design the project. Many people are not aware, as they walk there, that it is one of only three places designed by Steele with public access. One of Lynch’s tasks, while working there, was to assist Steele in the selection of stones. Another fact unknown to many is that at the same time, Mr. Olmstead was hired to design Harbor Park and these two men, so great in their profession, worked together to make the view what it is today. These parks were waterfront areas that, in the past, had many small shipyards and did not look very attractive. It was in the early 1930s and during the Great Depression, after Ocean House burned and the original Camden Public Library was built there, came the parks. Mrs. Bok had a two-fold purpose in this project. Not only did she want the place to look nice, but she wanted Camden men hired for workers, to put food on their tables. Camden did not have money to really keep it properly maintained, so a committee was appointed by the town to restore it as best they could. The committee met weekly for several years, studying the original plans. They did away with the “volunteer” maples and other things that just grew and replaced some of the shrubs and plants that had died in all those years. It looks today, as near as possible, as it did when Lynch and the other Camden men made the parks so beautiful. There is also a committee appointed to see that it doesn’t get “carried away with unwanted growth” again.
After this project, Lynch worked in the dining hall at The Whitehall Inn; worked in Bradford’s in New York City as part of the Camden crew, and various hotels in Florida in the winters. He served as steward on the troop trains in Santa Fe Railroad at the beginning of the war.
During World War II, he served in the U.S. Merchant Marines, Army Transport, out of Searsport. He was in charge of the Steward’s Department (food preparation) on several ships along the East Coast and North Atlantic.
Lynch was awarded the Atlantic War Zone Medal and the World War II Victory Medal. In 1945, he was honorably discharged from military service in Boston.
He was recognized by the Maine State Legislature in 2000 for his war-time service in the Merchant Marines. After the war, he remained in the Merchant Marines and served aboard several tankers, including Harold Reinaur, as steward. Later, due to the fact that he held Merchant Marine and Coast Guard papers as steward and chef, he started a long career of working on private yachts. Some of these included the Putnam family, who were banking investors and owned Buzzard Bay Gas. Cardinal Cushing was a frequent visitor aboard that yacht, and often they would tie up along the Kennedy family yacht, Honey Fritz, in Hyannis Port. Other yachts included Mercury, owned by the Storrow family, who were the General Motors heirs.
The water seemed to be Lynch’s life and in between yacht and tanker jobs, he would work as a cook on the Windjammmers out of Camden.
I had the pleasure of listening to an interview of Lynch and Fred Crockett, made by the Camden Oral History Project on June 6, 2001. It was great to hear their voices and what fine and fond memories they both had of Camden many years ago. They talked about the yachts that came into Camden harbor, the stores and businesses that used to be, such as 12 grocery stores, 10 barbers (haircuts were 35 cents) and several garages. They talked about the clerks in the stores, the “summer people” and all the mills for employment. They even remembered some of the town characters. It brought back many memories of the old days of Camden.
Lynch died on Oct. 17, 2002, at the age of 95. His wife Madell and stepson Frank Ames predeceased him. He lived for a while with his daughter Deborah Ward and her husband Richard of Camden. Deborah died unexpectedly a short time ago. He has two sons, Robert James Lynch and Rodney Cornelius Lynch of Camden, as well as grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Several of them served with the United States Navy.
Lynch was buried with a graveside service at Mountain View Cemetery and military honors.