I was standing in line at a political dinner two weeks ago when a friend standing in front of me asked if I had heard the news. Stan Spicer had passed away.
I stopped in my tracks.
"Stan Spicer? From downshore?"
It was true, and it shocked me.
Not because of his age or his health. Stan was not a young man, and I knew he had had some heart trouble. But he had an untouchable quality about him that made me never consider the fact he would someday be gone.
Stan and the work he has done during his life, including the many books he wrote, were as much a part of the Parrsboro shore as the Mary Celeste or the legends of Glooscap (both of which are subjects he wrote books about, by the way).
But my memories of Stan will always be of his personality - his kindness, consideration, knowledge, modesty and common sense.
While I have known of him and his books since my childhood, the first time I sat down for a one-on-one interview with Stan was when the Parrsboro and District Board of Trade was honouring him as its Citizen of the Year, back in the late 90s.
He answered my questions and listed some of his accomplishments, not to brag but to help me with my article. A writer himself, he knew the information I would be looking for, and tried to make it as easy as possible for me to be accurate.
After the article was printed he called me to thank me for it, a rare gesture that is unnecessary but always appreciated. Stan made sure to compliment me if he liked something I wrote, sometimes even months after the fact. It always meant a lot to me, especially coming from him.
Through the years Stan and I crossed paths on several occasions, as he was involved in many community efforts, most having to do with the rich heritage of this shore that he cherished more than any other. He became my "go-to guy" whenever I needed such things as information on a particular ship built in one of our communities, or a quote about the historical importance of our lighthouses.
I had the pleasure of hearing Stan speak publicly on several occasions, and it was always an engaging experience. When he told the story of Mary Celeste, he loved the lore and let it drip from his tongue, but he always made sure to separate fact from myth.
And when he referred to a ship, it was always a "she" or a "her". Never an "it."
I can say with confidence that Stan knew more about the Mary Celeste than anyone else in the world, and could readily tell you how many planks were used to build her or where the wood came from. If you asked him a question, he either knew the answer or he would find you the answer. But I don't think I ever remember him needing to look.
Despite his vast knowledge, he never came across as a know-it-all. He was quietly modest and never sought glory. I interviewed him a few years back about his last book, The Age of Sail, and complimented him on the snazzy presentation of the book with its glossy photos and beautiful illustrations. He credited the illustrator and emphasized that he had nothing to do with that end of the project, and told me this several times to make sure I didn't credit him with something he didn't do.
Last year he was nominated for the Portia White Award, given annually to a Nova Scotian for achievement in the arts. I called him for an interview and he asked me not to do the story, because he didn't consider himself a worthy candidate.
What perhaps impressed me most about Stan was his practical nature. One time Cumberland South MLA Murray Scott came to me with an idea, bubbling with excitement. He wanted to see a replica of the Mary Celeste built in Spencer's Island, similar to the Hector replica built in Pictou. He envisioned a fleet of replicas of famous Nova Scotia ships that could be tourist attractions, and also could hit the seas to promote the province, visiting New England ports, etc. I thought it was an incredible idea.
"You and I are going down to visit Stan Spicer, and see what he thinks," said Murray, who was confident government funding would be available for such a project.
So Stan was happy to have us in for a visit, and listened to our spiel. When we were finished, he sat there quietly, stroking his chin, and politely told us the project would never work. While he admitted it would succeed in creating excitement on the shore and some work, he said maintaining such a ship would be a frightful expense that could only lead to financial ruin for whatever community group was formed to manage it.
He hated to "throw cold water" on our idea, but he explained it in such a way that neither Murray nor myself could argue. We were thinking of big dreams, and he was thinking common sense.
I once asked Stan why he and Gwen chose to brave the bitter winters in Spencer's Island instead of migrating to Florida like many other retirees. He told me he had no interest in that.
"I once worked on a ship for the summer, and we sailed to Florida," he said. "It was 106 degrees on the deck. That was enough Florida for me."
It was a good answer but I don't think it was the real one. Stan loved this shore, and it loved him. I don't think he could have lived anywhere else.
He won't be forgotten.