Digest>Archives> March 2008

Lighthouse Community Mourns Neil Corbett


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Neil C. Corbett 1916-2008

The Friends of Little River Lighthouse along with the nationwide lighthouse community is mourning the loss of Neil Corbett, 91, who died peacefully on January 27. Neil, who spent his youth growing up at Little River Lighthouse off the coast of Cutler, Maine, was a Charter Founding Member of the Friends of Little River Lighthouse and was the Honorary Chairman of the group, which is a chapter of the American Lighthouse Foundation.

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Little River Lighthouse as it appeared during the ...

Over the years, Neil shared many of his memories and family photographs with the Friends group of his life at the lighthouse and served as a consultant on the restoration of the 1876 light station that was established on the island in 1847. He served as one of the principle speakers at the relighting ceremony of the lighthouse in October 2001 and at the Change of Ownership Ceremony in July of 2002 when the Coast Guard turned over ownership of the lighthouse and the island to the American Lighthouse Foundation.

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Velma & Willie Corbett are shown here in 1945. ...

Neil’s father, Willie W. Corbett, was the last lighthouse keeper of the old United States Lighthouse Service to have served at Little River Lighthouse from 1921 until 1939 when the Lighthouse Service was dissolved and merged into the Coast Guard. His father had previously served as a lighthouse keeper at Saddleback Ledge, Tenants Harbor and Monhegan lighthouses.

As well as being the son of a lighthouse keeper, Neil was the grandson of a lighthouse keeper. His maternal grandfather, Roscoe G. Johnson also served as a lighthouse keeper at Little River Lighthouse from 1896 to 1898 and other lighthouses including Libby Island at the entrance to Machias Bay. Neil also shared the memories of his mother, Velma, of her lighthouse life stories that had been passed down to him.

Although Neil was proud of his family’s lighthouse history, he was no fan of island life and as a youngster he took every opportunity he could to get off the island. He often recounted the story of telling his father, when he left the island to join the army, that while island life might have been good enough for his father, island life wasn’t for him and he would not go back. However, a couple of years ago, Neil changed his mind and, finally after many years, returned to the island light station where he delighted in recounting his memories to others while touring the restored keeper’s house.

As an active and long time member of the Cutler United Methodist Church in Cutler, he attended the historic, first-ever, church services that were held on the island in 2006 and 2007. Last year he chuckled how he now needed a ride across the island from the boat house to the keeper’s house, recalling as a young man that he made hundreds of walks from one side of the island to other, often times, carrying supplies or bags of coal over his shoulder or in pushing a wheelbarrow. "We didn’t have the luxury of a tractor in those days," he said.

His brothers, Myron and Lester and sisters, Florence Armstrong, Ruth Farris, Emily Keaton and Kathleen Johnson, preceded Neil in death. His brother, Purcell, who lives in Cutler, is now the last remaining child of lighthouse keepers Willie and Velma Corbett.

Just as Neil Corbett was a light unto his family, community and his friends, the light from the tower at Little River Lighthouse will always shine on to remind us of Neil Corbett, his family and their maritime heritage to the downeast coast of Maine.

This story appeared in the March 2008 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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