COOPERSTOWN—James Andrews Melrose Johnston, Jamie to family and friends, crossed the bar on November 14, 2022, following a prolonged battle with multiple ailments. He was 68.
Born on December 20, 1953, in New Haven, Connecticut, into a family of educators, naturalists, poets, historians, sailors and adventurers, Jamie never missed an opportunity to gleefully embrace novel experiences, such as when, as a toddler, he astonished his mother when she removed his rain hat in a New Haven store only to find a mouse cheerfully nestling in his hair.
Jamie started out at the Foote School in New Haven, Connecticut, and then graduated from Pine Point School in Stonington, Connecticut, during which time he befriended and was mentored by Roger Tory Peterson. Jamie went on to Berkshire School in Sheffield, Massachusetts, and the University of Maine, where he made lifelong friends and graduated with a degree in wildlife management. He then joined fellow ornithologist Tom Lovejoy to study birds in Brazil, braved the hostile pecks of ospreys along the coast of Maine as he climbed up to their nests to detect pesticides and band them, and later led “Kids in Creeks” programs in Tennessee and Maryland to promote the health and beauty of their natural habitats. Making friends wherever he went, Jamie and his spirited dog of the moment cheerfully accepted invitations to “camp” on their porches or assault their coffee pots, even when there was no one at home.
In between these projects, Jamie taught biology at secondary schools from Connecticut to Texas and enjoyed a stint at The American School in Switzerland (TASIS), which afforded him time for rollicking bicycle rides in the Alps, Great Britain, and Europe. On one occasion, Jamie warned Odie, his boisterous student companion, to descend a Scottish mountain with caution as there was a treacherous turn at the bottom. Defying this advice, Odie was found later deeply lodged, but unscathed, in a sheep shed, admitting that ignoring Jamie’s counsel could be perilous to one’s welfare.
Jamie also continued his family fascination with the sea. One of his earliest experiences was on a voyage through the Baltic Sea and the Göta kanal, when his family unwittingly left the little 10-year-old on the dock in Gothenburg Harbor, only to discover his absence when they couldn’t find him at lunchtime. Later in his life he plied the New England and mid-Atlantic coastlines in his traditional wooden sailboats, accompanied by his loyal dog of the day and, often, many friends in the Wooden Boat Forum. No fiberglass for these gifted folks, for whom unforgiving, intensive and never-ending boat repair is an integral aspect of sailing life.
In a word, Jamie was simply multi-dimensional and, like a whack-a-mole, incapable of settling comfortably into any confining niche for very long. He was always devoted to his family, friends, and dogs, ever cheerful and gregarious, ever fascinated by family genealogy and lore, and comfortable both among friends and alone, when he reveled in a quiet life interrupted only by the humming of his bees.
Jamie is predeceased by his parents, Waldo C.M. and Elinor Doolittle Johnston. He leaves his siblings, Waldo C.M. Johnston, Jr., Elinor J. Vincent, and Carol J. Galpin and their spouses, five nieces and nephews and 11 grandnieces and -nephews, all of whom will greatly miss his reflections, advice, arguments, anecdotes, knowledge, support, and creativity.
Jamie’s family is especially grateful for the comfort extended to their brother during his final weeks, especially by Robbie Clark, George Holden, Lang Keith, Jane Clark, Chip Northrup, Henry and Rebecca Weil, Harry and Ellen Levine, and the Wooden Boat Forum.
Arrangements are under the care of Connell, Dow & Deysenroth Funeral Home in Cooperstown.
There will be a private internment at Lakewood Cemetery in December and a jubilant celebration of Jamie’s life up on the hill next summer. Donations may be made in memory of Jamie to Nova Scotia Heritage Schooner Rescue Society/schoonerrescue.org, where Jamie’s schooner Airlie is undergoing restoration, and the Susquehanna SPCA, 5082-5088 State Highway 28, Cooperstown, NY 13326/sqspca.org.