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May 24, 2013
Island Profile: Paige and Nick Morehead
Paige Clark Morehead, who is in her 30s, married to Nick Morehead and the mother of three-year-old Cayman, was born and grew up on Shelter Island in her family’s home just up the road from the South Ferry terminal. She and her younger sister, Michelle, are the daughters of Cliff Clark, an owner of South Ferry and the company’s president, and his wife, Tish.
Growing up here and going to Shelter Island School, she found it was “no big deal” to her friends that her family owned the ferry. The business was a presence in her life, residing there almost like another person.
“It played a role because that’s what we knew. The ferry was right there. We lived right by it. We had ship-to-shore radios going off at all hours and phone calls for emergency runs, for pregnant women and people who were sick,” she remembered. But what stands out for her as she thinks about her childhood is not the ferry but the closeness of her family and the closeness of her friends.
In the Shelter Island School, there were 23 other kids in her graduating class, 17 in her sister’s, and they almost all started preschool together. Many of them are still here on the Island, raising their children, who are in preschool now with her son.
“These kids are all going to be in the same class, too, growing up as kids together and we’re growing up as parents together and it’s just nice, seeing it almost come full circle.”
In addition, she’s surrounded by cousins and their children, the dads are “all captains on the ferry, so it’s the next generation, kind of moving in and making their own lives here.” Cayman, she thinks, will end up working there, too. “He already thinks he works there. If you ask him, that’s what he’ll tell you.”
After graduation from high school in 1993, Paige left for Harding College in Arkansas, which both her parents and grandparents had attended. It was a “Christian school,” faith-based, with chapel every morning and an emphasis on Bible study. But it “wasn’t a good match,” she said, and after a year she returned home and worked on the ferry, both on deck and in the office for a few years while she figured out what she wanted to do. She went back to school at Suffolk Community College for two years and then transferred to New York University, earning a degree in speech therapy in 2002. She loved living in Manhattan.
“It was a nice change of pace, going there from living on Shelter Island. You didn’t know everyone when you went into a deli, as opposed to Fedi’s, where everyone knows what you’re going to order. It was nice having the anonymity there and I made great friends. I really enjoyed the fact that I was able to be competent there, because I know it can be intimidating for a lot of people. I felt good about that. It was fun, I enjoyed it.”
But in 2003, she took a job filling in for a speech therapist on maternity leave at the Sag Harbor Elementary School and came back to live on the Island. Her next job was at the Child Development Center in East Hampton, providing speech therapy for children at the preschool level. It was a preschool that integrated normally developing kids with children who had special needs, placing them together in one class, “So I got a lot of good experience there,” Paige said. After that, a job offer at Springs Elementary School came along. She accepted and she’s been there for the past seven years.
In 2005, she met Nick Morehead, then a reporter for the Shelter Island Reporter. “Our paths had just crossed by being out and seeing each other around town,” she recalled. When they started dating, he had already met her dad and her uncle, having driven with them up-island for a legislative hearing on a ferry rate increase he had to cover for the paper.
“At some point, when we knew we were going to get married, he expressed an interest in working on the ferry and my first reaction was, ‘Oh, no, no. I had a boyfriend once who wanted that, and it doesn’t work, the whole thing, it’s a little too close to home.’ But we mulled it over and finally decided maybe it would be a good career path, especially if we definitely wanted to stay here and we do.”
So they decided to “give it a dry run” and see how they liked it. He started as a deck hand and then went on to get his captain’s license and now he is playing a managerial role as well.
Nick had been a “second home kid” here on the Island since he was three or four. His mother, Bliss Morehead and his stepfather, Mike Zisser, bought a home here after years of renting on the South Fork. Growing up with them in Manhattan, Nick attended Friends Seminary there, a Quaker school, where, “If you were into sports, you ‘played to tie.’” He was into tennis and when he visited a friend at Hotchkiss, the Connecticut prep school and saw their campus, he begged to go. He was a kid who actually sought out going to boarding school: “I wasn’t ‘sent,’” he said. He went on to Trinity College in Hartford, graduated in 1997, spent some time in California and then went back to school at American University in Washington, D.C., studying journalism. After several jobs, he came back to the Island and worked for the Shelter Island Reporter from 2003 to 2005.
In 2007, he began work at the ferry. “That the ferry was a more active lifestyle was intriguing to me, certainly a whole new skill set to be learned plus being able to bring what skill sets I had to the ferry.” He said he knows he still has a lot to learn and that there are a lot of challenges, but Hurricane Sandy underscored for him that he had made the right move.
“Being a part of the critical infrastructure during a time like that? There’s nothing more amazing than that. It was great. We had our most senior guys down there during the most intense part of the storm and I could be a part of what was going on and learn from them, be out of the way when I had to be, but be right there, tying lines and lifting and helping. I could learn from our senior pilot as he drove the boat across, in 80-mile winds, sitting right behind him, looking for pilings and docks floating in the water that we didn’t want to hit.”
His memories of that day will last a long time. “It’s real and we’re doing it and it’s cool,” he said.
Paige agreed. “You have some pride when your husband’s down there and your father’s down there and whoever is helping out is down there. It does make you feel proud. And it is something to be proud of, I think, to come together, problem solve and make it work. I love that.”