The one thing I can say for a surety is that I knew Timothy E. Harrison. I worked with him all day, every day, for eight years in researching and writing our articles for Lighthouse Digest, and through that, I gained a total familiarity with the many facets of his personality.
The one trait that stood out above all else was that Tim was a man of passion. He worked every day including weekends from when he got up at 4AM to when he couldn’t stare at a computer screen a second longer after 7PM.
Once, he sent me an email at 5:14 in the morning saying, “I’m up, why aren’t you?” He expected everyone could and should keep pace with him! In fact, there wasn’t ever a holiday at Lighthouse Digest – even on Christmas Day, after attending church, the present opening, family calls, and a nice meal, it was back to work by late afternoon.
Consequently, he got more accomplished in his three decades of lighthousing than 10 other people combined. He ate, drank, and slept Lighthouse Digest and had a never-ending enthusiasm that infected all who came in contact with him, whether during a presentation, at a lighthouse event, on email, through phone calls, in video and TV broadcasts, or even while waiting for his wife and business partner, Kathleen Finnegan-Harrison, to do grocery shopping at the local Hannaford market in town.
During the Pandemic, he didn’t dare go in the store, but stayed out in the truck and whiled away the time by passing out copies of Lighthouse Digest through a half-inch crack in the window to people walking by, hoping to entice them to subscribe.
On one memorable trip to Head Harbour Light on Campobello Island, while Kathy and I hiked over to the lighthouse, Tim stayed in the parking lot with a stack of Lighthouse Digest magazines to pass out to unsuspecting tourists as they got out of their cars. When we got back to the parking lot an hour or so later, he was beaming like a lighthouse because he had been able to pass out at least a dozen copies of the magazine and have some good conversations with strangers in order to generate possible subscriptions.
Sometimes, though, I worried about him that he was taking it a bit far – like the time I told him I was going down to Southwest Harbor to Mt. Height Cemetery to replace the flags on our Lighthouse Service grave markers for the 23 keepers buried there. He sent me back an email saying, “Do you need some copies to take with you?” I replied that I’d better NOT see any keepers popping out of their graves just to get a current issue to catch up on the latest lighthouse news!
Along with that passion, and perhaps the trait that helped drive it, was Tim’s natural curiosity about things. He was a man of infinite wonder. I always got emails saying: I wonder if there is a newspaper story or caption to go with this photo? I wonder why they took that down? I wonder when they changed that out? I wonder where it went to afterwards?
Of course, that was his way of saying GO FIND OUT. And when I would finally come up with the answer or photo after many hours or days of digging, he would reply with: “Great find . . . now to find more info on him for a story,” or “now that we know where it came from, where did it go or where is it now?” And it would take me back to the drawing board for round two of the interminable hunt.
I gave him a Christmas present one year of a photo that I found at a flea market of tour buses parked in front of Old Point Loma Lighthouse in California in 1913. Next day, I got an email: “It sure would be neat to find out the name of the tour bus company that gave tours to the lighthouse in 1913 so we could add it to the caption.”
Once, we were researching Point Adams Lighthouse in Oregon that the government eventually burned down after it was decommissioned. Tim wondered if there were a photo of the last keeper anywhere. After much travail I found one. Then he wondered where the violin ended up that the keeper had played at the lighthouse. I found out who had it and actually visited the museum to take a photo of it.
In order to forestall the next “I wonder,” I got a photo of a burnt match and sent it to him, saying, THIS is the actual match that burnt the lighthouse down! I half expected him to then wonder where the matchbox was that it was struck against! Instead, he replied, “Are you sure this was the exact match they used?”
Tim was also man of great humor. He was “wicked funny” and had a quick wit. With a straight face, he could throw out a one-liner with the best of them and not miss a beat.
I regularly got humorous emails from him that made me laugh out loud, like the one regarding the photos of Esopus Meadows Lighthouse keeper John J. Kerr for the story we were working on. Keeper Kerr loved animals and one of the incredible photos we were given showed him with a rooster standing on his head, and there was another of him feeding a pet skunk named Stinky.
Tim downloaded the photos I sent and rather nonchalantly wrote, “Ok, got them all. You can delete them from Dropbox.” I wrote back, “What, no comment on the one with the rooster on his head or him feeding Stinky? Some great images there!” to which Tim replied, “What is there to comment about?” with a smiley face after it, as if it were every day that he received photos of keepers with roosters on their heads!
At dinners and parties, Tim loved to make you laugh by his comments and antics, especially whenever there were minions involved from the Despicable Me film franchise. Over the years, I had given Tim and Kathy several minions to act as additional office staff to help with the workload, or at least to provide a smile during stressful production time. Tim quite liked Stuart and would bring him out upon special occasions to join the festivities, even providing a voice for him which pretty much had us rolling on the floor laughing after only a few minutes.
Tim regularly loved to take you on a ride around the block if you were gullible enough to believe everything he said. Unfortunately, I was in that category and consequently spent a lot of time seeing the backside of the block.
Maybe he took some of you for a ride as well if you were friends on his Facebook page? A few years back, he posted a photo of ladders on the back deck of his house up to the roof and wrote, “In spite of just recently getting out of the hospital after having a heart attack, and because I could not find anyone to put a new roof on the ocean side of the house, I had to do the work myself. It’s a slow process when you have to work alone, especially at my age with my medical history.” In response, he received 50 comments from his alarmed friends telling him he shouldn’t be up on the roof and expressing their sincere concern.
And speaking of riding, if there was one thing Tim loved, it was old cars, especially old lighthouse service vehicles of any type, be it lighthouse district or Airways Division trucks, keepers’ cars or even just visitor vehicles, wagons or buggies parked in front of a lighthouse.
On a research trip to the National Archives in Washington, D.C., I came across some photos of what the Lighthouse Service called the 1924 Cuban-American Exposition, which included images of a parade in Key West, Florida. The U.S. Lighthouse Service participated with an entry of their district service truck, displaying two models of Sombrero Key and Dry Tortuga lighthouses on the back bed.
When I shared them with Tim, he couldn’t have been more excited. He wrote: “The truck photos in the parade are just about the coolest items you have ever discovered!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Great stuff – a real coup. WHAT A FIND!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
Another time, we were working on a story on Punta Gorda Lighthouse in California. I had found Ron Clark, who was the grandson of the last keeper, Officer-in-Charge Hank Mostovoy. Ron shared photos and stories with us of his life growing up at the station, including the time he and his brother were loaned to the rancher next door during sheep-shearing season.
The two young boys were stuffed into long bags, suspended from a high platform, where the ranch hands were shearing the sheep and then throwing the wool into the sacks on top of them. The boys had to step on the wool to matt it down and could only get out of the bags when they were full to the top. Ron commented how they were covered in lanolin oil mixed with dirt and muck by the end of the day and stunk to high heaven. As payment for their onerous labors, both boys received a pet lamb to raise at the lighthouse.
Ron had sent us a photo of the lambs next to the keeper’s house and I wanted to include the memory and photo in our story, but Tim put in a photo of a car instead, saying that he had the “pulse of the readership” of Lighthouse Digest and knew they wanted to see cars rather than lambs.
In fact, I got many email responses from Tim over the years in answer to my photo suggestions stating that “We are a Lighthouse Magazine!” and shouldn’t publish photos that were given to me by descendants just because they were cute or funny, even when tied to specific memories from keepers and families at the various stations.
This held true except when it came to any photos of cars, such as the one of Joe Hayward as an infant, in the driver seat of an old model A when his father, keeper Orlo Hayward, was stationed at Slip Point Lighthouse in Washington. Tim thought that one was totally “Slick!!!” and it went into the November-December 2018 issue, even though there was no lighthouse or keeper in the photo with it.
You could count on seeing at least a couple of lighthouse-related car photos in every issue of Lighthouse Digest and he regularly posted them on the Facebook page, asking our followers for help in identifying them for our next issue.
Lastly, it should be mentioned that Timothy Harrison was a man of great faith. He could pray the rain clouds away. How many times was there 100% chance of rain predicted for our grave marker ceremony days and Tim would start praying multiple times a day, up until the day of the event, that we would have dry weather. Inevitably, it always happened, even if only for an hour or two during the actual ceremony. It would be raining cats and dogs before we did the setup, stay dry for the event and tear down, and then go back to raining cats and dogs for the rest of the day.
One choice example was during our memorial ceremony in Cutler, Maine, held for the sailors from the shipwreck of the Julia Warr, who are buried next to Little River Light’s boathouse out at the entrance to Cutler harbor. It was a particularly windy and rainy day as Hurricane Irma passed by, but Tim’s prayers even calmed the hurricane!
Members of the Warr family wanted to go out to the island to see the graves, so while Tim and Kathy did the setup for the ceremony, I accompanied the family out to the island. It lightly rained at the fog bell circle in town as they set up the awning and table, but it was totally dry just a 1/4 mile down the road at the public dock; and that dry opening in sky followed us out to the island and back to shore, and then back to hold the ceremony at the circle without so much as a drop. You could see the rain clouds everywhere else except directly overhead. It went back to raining continuously after we finished and went downstairs into the basement of the church across the way for the reception afterwards.
Tim would always say, don’t worry – it won’t rain, because he had incredible faith that God would answer his prayers, for after all, weren’t we about God’s errand? And there were many miracles during our years of working together to prove that indeed, we were.
God certainly smiled upon Timothy Harrison and we can imagine him now, hearing our Heavenly Father’s loving words: “Well done thou good and faithful servant . . . Enter into the joy of thy Lord!” And what will be a good part of that joy? Probably looking up every lighthouse keeper he ever wrote about to ask for a first-hand account of their lighthouse lives and finally put all the wondering to rest!
This story appeared in the
Nov/Dec 2023 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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