Capt. Richard Spear recalled as adventurer

By Stephen Betts | May 04, 2018
Photo by: Stephen Betts Capt. Richard Spear, second from left, was honored by the city in June 2010 by having a waterfront street named for him. Pictured, from left, are Wastewater Treatment Plant Director Terry Pinto, Spear, City Councilor Tom Molloy, Mayor Deborah McNeil and Councilor Elizabeth Dickerson.

Rockland — Capt. Richard Spear is credited with helping shape Rockland harbor, serving 64 years on the Port District Board.

But he also was also an adventurer, traveling the world both by ship and plane.

Spear died Thursday, May 3, at the age of 96.

"He was very influential for Rockland," said fellow captain James Kalloch of Rockland.

Spear was the first employee of the Maine State Ferry Service and was involved in the creation of both the old ferry terminal and the subsequent one that currently serves people traveling back and forth from Vinalhaven, North Haven and Matinicus islands.

The Rockland native also was a driving force behind the creation of the marina at Lermond's Cove, which is the permanent home for some of the region's historic sailing schooners.

"He was such a great guy, I loved him," Kalloch said.

Spear was well known for his easygoing manner, his dry sense of humor and his willingness to help others.

Rockland officials also recognized the work that Spear did for the community. In June 2010, the Rockland City Council named a street along the waterfront where the schooner marina is located Captain Spear Drive.

Spear helped guide legislation through the Maine Legislature to create the Port District in 1954 to oversee freight and passenger transportation for Rockland. He was elected to the Port District in 1954 and city residents reelected him every four years. He served as chair until his death.

In a 2013 interview, Spear talked about his adventures, which started when he was a teenager. Spear was about to enter his senior year at Rockland High School when he had the opportunity to sail on a square-rigged vessel and follow the route that Christopher Columbus took.

When Spear learned about the opportunity to follow Columbus’ route, he jumped at the chance and was supported by his father, who was a marine engineer.

He spent the next six months sailing the Atlantic aboard the Harvard University vessel Capitana, visiting ports from Maine to Central America.

That voyage started on Sept. 1, 1939, the same day that World War II started in Europe, when Germany attacked Poland. Spear said this put the crew on the watch for enemy ships, although the United States had not yet entered the conflict.

But, he said, the crew never spotted any submarines during the voyage.

Spear served as a messman aboard the ship and was paid $20 per month for his duties, along with free room and board.

“I was below deck much of the time. I had to wash the dishes and other chores,” he recounted. “I was seasick for the first five days.”

But he also got to work on deck, and during storms would climb the masts to lower the sails of the square-rigged ship.

When Spear returned home, he completed his high school education and then attended the Maine Maritime Academy in Castine, graduating in the school's second class of 1943. He said his experiences as a Boy Scout and aboard the Capitana helped him at Maine Maritime.

“Some people didn’t know the difference between a bow and a stern,” Spear recalled.

He then became a merchant mariner for two years. He estimates he visited more than 200 ports during that time. His favorite ports were in South America, including Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He said the cities were beautiful and the climate excellent. He also enjoyed English ports for their historic values.

Ports in northern Africa were his least favorite stops. He said in addition to the intense heat, which forced the crew to work at night, the cities were dirty.

Upon completion of his merchant marine experience, he worked jobs that included what he called the lousiest one he ever held, working at a General Electric lightbulb manufacturing plant in East Boston, Mass. He said the heat was overwhelming and the work was not challenging.

He soon returned to Rockland and worked at various jobs.

When the Maine State Ferry Service was created in the 1950s, Spear applied and was hired in 1959 to be assistant manager of the Maine State Ferry facilities in Rockland, under construction at the time. The terminal had been built, but the docks and the ferries were not yet complete.

Spear was thrust into the leadership of the ferry service when manager Ralph Brown became ill and died two months after Spear was hired.

The first ferry was the Governor Muskie, launched around Labor Day in 1959, serving Islesboro. A few months later, within a week of each other, the William Silsby and the North Haven began serving Vinalhaven and North Haven, respectively.

He served as ferry service manager for 30 years, retiring in 1989. The amount of traffic on the ferries increased dramatically during that time.

“There were times on a Sunday afternoon that there would be no passengers on the North Haven run,” Spear said. Now there are two vessels running to the island during the summer.

Spear continued his world travel. A month before his retirement in 1989, he traveled to the North Pole. He jogged around the pole, saying he could then tell people that he ran around the world.

Ships have not been the only mode of travel enjoyed by the lifelong Rockland resident. Spear obtained his pilot’s license and flew planes until he turned 80. He rode in hot air balloons, parasailed and operated a one-person submarine off South Thomaston.

“I’ve had a pretty good life,” Spear said in 2013.

Predeceased by his wife of 68 years, Dorothy, in 2015, Spear is survived by his daughter, Linda, and her husband, Frederick Batstone, of Boxborough, Mass.

Visiting hours will be 5 to 7 p.m., Thursday, May 10, at Burpee, Carpenter & Hutchins Funeral Home, 110 Limerock St., Rockland, where a celebration of life will be held at 2 p.m. Friday, May 11.

Comments (5)
Posted by: Gary W. Havener | May 05, 2018 10:45

I didn't know him personally, however my mother did and knowing his history and character, I believe he was a man among men.


Posted by: kay cochran | May 05, 2018 07:32

Such a wonderful man, always knew you.  He was at the Ferry Service when I was at MDOT.

Posted by: Elizabeth Dickerson | May 05, 2018 03:54

Fair winds and following seas, Captain.

Posted by: Jonathan Trumble | May 04, 2018 22:46

RIP Captain Spear. I was always better off for your visits to the harbor master's office, sharing your wonderful history and your insights on how Rockland Harbor might be better. Thank you.

Posted by: Dale Hayward | May 04, 2018 21:17

Dick took me for an airplane ride one day and I thought I was going to lose it all as we got tossed around pretty bad and he sat there just a calm and said: " A little windy aint' she bub. Then he told me he flew for years before his wife even knew. What a guy, great character, and friend. Sail along Dick the seas are open and the gale is at your back.

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