Island profile: Linda McCarthy, the goal was always an Island home

PETER BOODY PHOTO | Linda McCarthy at home off South Midway Road. She cleared the property herself before the house was built.

If she weren’t so well organized, ever ready with dates and the spelling of names of people and places, Linda McCarthy’s story of her life could be a dizzying experience.

There’s a lot to it, from running marathons; fixing her parents’ dock every spring and clearing her own building lot some years later; boating in her own 31-foot 1956 Owens mahogany cruiser as a young single woman; marrying a career Marine; raising two daughters here, in Hawaii and elsewhere; and working as a phys ed teacher, admissions officer and now real estate salesperson at Daniel Gale Sotheby’s International office on Shelter Island.

The story goes all the way back to a Norwegian fishing fleet owner named Peder Larsen who started her paternal family story. When all of Great-Grandfather Larsen’s boats were wrecked in a storm, he came to the U.S. to rebuild his fortune, starting a real estate and insurance business in Montclair, New Jersey, which his son Louis and later twin grandsons, Peder, and Linda’s father, Paul, would continue to operate.

Born in 1959 in Montclair, one of three girls, Linda played lacrosse at Montclair High School. In summers, it was off to Cape Cod, where her mother’s family had a place and where Thanksgiving is still celebrated, and to Shelter Island, where Grandpa Louis and Nana had a place, to swim, clam, fish, boat, water ski — and work: helping rebuild the family docks each season, shoring up the foundation of their cottage, digging the trench for the electric line to their dock.

She had jobs, too: working as a chambermaid and short-order cook at the Pridwin and driving a dump truck at Shelter Island Sand & Gravel, her cousin Peder’s business.

Her grandparents discovered the Island when a friend told them they’d like it better than the Jersey Shore. They did indeed like it, buying land in 1938 on Menantic Creek that sons Peder and Paul later augmented when each bought cottages to the north and south, just next door.

Grandfather Louis died at the South Midway house, still known as “Nana’s house,” drying the dishes one evening in 1953. His son Peder, the father of Linda’s cousin,  or “Pedie” of Shelter Island Sand & Gravel fame, died about a decade ago. Linda’s father Paul is 91 and alive and well, as is her mother Doris, living in Florida in the winter and in summers on South Midway. Linda’s older sister Alice Deupree, who lives in New Jersey with her family, now owns a home on South Midway.

A former marathon runner with a best time of 3:26:17 who still kayaks, paddleboards and bikes with her husband Peter McCarthy, a retired Marine Corps lieutenant colonel who has been teaching the Junior Naval ROTC Program at Riverhead High School for 11 years now, Linda studied health and physical education at Rutgers, going on to teach phys ed in Far Hills and later Clifton.

She got her master’s at Montclair State and went on to work in the admissions office at Wagner College on Staten Island. She had met Peter, who then headed the Marine officer candidate recruiting program in New York area schools, on a field trip to Quantico for city educators. A runner, he got Linda into marathons and triathlons.

They dated for fours years before getting married at Union Chapel on Shelter Island with a reception at the Island Boatyard.
By then, she’d owned her boat for years — that nifty Owens twin-engine inboard she fondly remembers taking friends everywhere in.

After she sold it in 1989, because she and Peter would be moving away, the new owner allowed it to go to pot and sink at its mooring.

“My only regret in life is letting that boat go,” Linda said the other day at her home on four acres, hidden from view in rolling, wooded terrain between two kettle holes off South Midway. “She was a labor of love. I learned a lot from her.”

Linda also had already bought property on the Island with her dad’s help in 1987, later swapping for the land on which she now lives. She did the lot clearing herself with chain saw and brush hog, felling trees and pulling down vines after returning full time to Shelter Island following Peter’s Marine Corps retirement in 2003. Her architect sister helped with the house plans. Cousin Pedie did the excavating. Linda did the landscaping, from rock walls to step and plantings, all by hand.

Before that, they had lived in Hawaii — “The only one place that compares to Shelter Island as paradise” — from 1989 to 1994, during which time Peter also served in Somalia and Kuwait; in Edison, New Jersey for three years, where daughter Morgan was born; at Quantico for a year, where daughter Kenna was born in 1997; then back to Hawaii until 2001. It was during that stint that Linda ran her best marathon.

“I was very proud of myself,” she said, showing a scrapbook of Reporter clips documenting her finishes in the Shelter Island 10K.
Through it all, Linda had worked, too, including as membership coordinator for the Better Business Bureau of Hawaii, running corporate fitness programs for a bank and for Johnson & Johnson and Merck in New Jersey.

Peter’s final assignment was at Marine district headquarters in Garden City, where the family lived until 2003. As Pete’s retirement approached, their goal was to find a way to live full time on Shelter Island. Landing the Riverhead High School post was the key.

Daughter Morgan, now at Geneseo and the 2012 salutatorian at Shelter Island High School, entered school here as a third grader, Kenna as a kindergartner. Linda got very involved in the school herself, working as an aide for Haley Sulahian, taking on duties with the PTSA, and then joining the boards of the Mashomack Preserve and the Shelter Island Red Cross.

No wonder Carol Tintle and Dougall Fraser of Daniel Gale Sotheby called her one day five years ago, asking her to join them and another great prospect, Debbie Binder, for lunch. They were looking for sharp, community-minded people to become salespeople in the Shelter Island office. Both women took the training and got their real estate licenses together.

“It can be all consuming,” she said, especially on weekends — and especially lately, with 2013 turning out to be “a very strong year.” But the office’s family atmosphere, the community focus and the usually flexible hours, Linda said, have made it a perfect job for her.

With Kenna headed for college in a few years, there’s no room for getting lazy at the McCarthy household — but then laziness isn’t their style, is it?