Obituary: William H. Price Jr.

William H. Price Jr.

A memorial service will be conducted for William H. Price Jr., who passed away late last year, at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church on Shelter Island on July 9 at 11 a.m.

William Harrison Price Jr. died November 29, 2010, in Hospice House, Vero Beach, Florida. He was 96. For the last 30 years of his life, he had wintered on nearby John’s Island. He previously was a year-round resident of Shelter Island and, as a child, summered here. In all, he spent 96 summers on the Island, the third generation of his family to do so.

The Price family lived at 12 and 13 Spring Garden Avenue in Shelter Island Heights, later 1 Bluff Avenue, and finally on a 28-acre farm overlooking West Neck Bay.

Born in 1914, the son of Dr. William H. Price and Ann Francis Price, Mr. Price grew up in Park Slope, Brooklyn, was educated at Poly Prep, and later at the Fessenden Academy, in Newton, Massachusetts.

As a boy, Bill loved to sail Shelter Island waters, where he skippered his own Wee Scot at the Shelter Island Yacht Club. His father was later to serve as commodore of the club during World War II, a matter in which Bill took great pride.

Early on, Bill took delight in the care of animals, his dog Pepper and his favorite horse Lucky. He was an avid rider and often picnicked with friends on Ram Island and in Mashomack. He recalled riding out to Reel Point and, on various occasions, trotting along the beach in the company of young Sylvester Prime, a Sylvester family descendant.

In his late teens, due to a latent genetic disorder, Bill suffered a gradual loss of sight, as did his brother, Gregory Price. As a result, Bill determined to focus his life on farming, which he believed he could carry on despite his loss of vision. He attended the Agriculture and Technical College of the State University at Farmingdale, New York and, together with his brother, Greg, transformed his loss into an opportunity to establish and develop a chicken farm on the family’s West Neck property. It later became known as Cackle Hill Farm.

During that time, Bill developed a passion for gardening, which became his principal source of enjoyment and respite from the care of his aging parents. He was adept at making a variety of jams from the fruits in his garden, which was enjoyed throughout the winter months, and ratatouille made from his vegetables as well.

In 1976, Bill married Elaine Fiske Francis whom he had known on Shelter Island since childhood. She, too, the daughter of a doctor, Edwin Howe Fiske, had spent summers on Shelter Island, moving with her family from their winter home in Brooklyn. Years after their marriage, which was initially spent at Cackle Hill Farm, the couple made their home at Dr. Fiske’s former residence overlooking Coecles Harbor, to which Bill relocated his extensive garden.

In an offhand conversation between Alice Fiske and Mac Griswold of Sag Harbor, who was then teaching a number of courses at Sarah Lawrence University and was employed as a staff writer at the New York Times, Alice mentioned an article about Bill that had appeared in American Homestyle and Gardening. As a result, Mac wrote an article in the “House and Home” section of the Times in its August 20, 1998 edition, titled “A Braille of Buds, Stems and Flowers.”

The story, with photographs of Bill both working in his garden and gazing out over Coecles Harbor, began, “Gardening has few heroes, being generally an unheroic pastime, but William Price, 84, is surely one of them.” Following publication of both articles, Bill received numerous letters and telephone calls from people all over the United States. Bill was very proud of those letters and inquiries.

Mac Griswold was right about Bill being a “hero.” He was a hero to his family, as well as to the many friends and acquaintances he had on Shelter Island, spanning almost a century of Island history.

Bill was a lifelong member of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church on Shelter Island. He was also a member of Trinity Episcopal Church in Vero Beach, Florida. He was a former member of the John’s Island Club and a member of the Shelter Island Garden Club. He was, at the time of his death, an honorary member of Shelter Island Yacht Club, having been a member longer than any other member of the club.

Bill is survived by his stepdaughter Susan Ciaccio; his son-in-law, Frank Ciaccio; and his step-grandchildren, Amanda Crowe and Caroline Emery, and their spouses, as well as his step-great-grandchildren, Marina, Emma and Maxwell Crowe, and Weber and Harrison Emery.

In lieu of flowers, donations to the Shelter Island Ambulance Corps, P.O. Box 830, Shelter Island, 11964, would be appreciated.