July 12, 2012 | Volume 42, No. 28

Boyce: Friends remember fisherman and fix-it man

Friends, family and fishermen from around Southeast Alaska gathered at a potluck memorial at the Fort Seward parade grounds July 12 to remember Richard “Dick” Boyce.

Richard "Dick" Boyce

Boyce fell off his commercial gillnet boat Eleanor S. early on July 4 north of Juneau. He is presumed drowned.

“Poor old Haines,” said friend Craig Loomis. “It’s going to be a different place without him.”

In interviews this week, Boyce was described as a devoted father of three daughters, generous all-around fix-it guy, and a regular at local cafes. He had lived in Haines since 1973.

“As a dad with two girls of my own, I always admired him. He had a great relationship with his daughters. He loved those girls, and he loved his boat, and if you put them together, that was it for Dick,” said Jim Syzmanski, a fellow fisherman and long-time friend.

“I never heard Dick talk bad about anybody, and I don’t know anybody that’s ever talked bad about Dick,” said gillnet skipper J.R. Churchill.

Boyce studied for six years at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology toward a degree in electrical and mechanical engineering but left for Alaska before graduating after a professor wanted him to revise his thesis. Loomis said Boyce used the thesis for firestarter in his first Haines cabin. “He said ‘I’m not going to be an engineer anyway. I’m going to be a fisherman.’”

Boyce built a 39-foot gillnetter, a hydro-electric plant for his 6 Mile home, kept cars and boats running, and made various gadgets for his home, fishing boat, and outdoor expeditions. His 60’X 30’ shop was packed with scrap metal and items he scrounged and bartered for. “He was always on the lookout, not just for things that were useful now, but things that he thought would be useful later, or that might be useful for someone else later,” said daughter Ellie Boyce.

“We used to give him a hard time, but when you needed a boat part you went to see Dick because he probably had seven of them in different colors,” Syzmanski said. He would also help you put the part in, or if he didn’t have it, fabricate what you needed.

Daughter Karen Boyce said he recently built a new anchor winch and bow roller. “He spent a total of 11 dollars on stainless steel bolts. The rest came from his scrap pile.”

“When Dick built something it was right dead-on, it was perfect,” Loomis said.

Boyce unloaded 25,000 pounds of scrap metal from his shed onto a barge this spring, along with about ten junk vehicles. Afterwards it looked about the same, according to Craig Loomis. “Stuff he put there 30 years ago, he knew where it was. It took 1½ hours to get it, but it would be there.”

Teacher Ellen Larson praised his generosity. “I know Dick never blew his own horn, but he used to bring fish around to widows and elderly.” Betty Holgate said that after her husband died Boyce gave her his halibut collars to make stock with. “I never asked, he just knew I was an old New Englander who knew how to make real fish stew,” she said.

Syzmanski said he’d miss Boyce both in port and on the fishing grounds. “He was such a positive person. As a gillnetter he was a pleasure to fish around. He was a hard worker, sober, thoughtful, but not that competitive. He was the first on the scene to help people. I think Dick would rather work on your boat than his own.”

“He was the most Christian non-Christian I know,” Don Nash said. “He was like one of my Haines day markers, when I saw him, I was close to home.”

Richard Bryant Boyce was born Jan. 2, 1949 in Portland, Maine, to Winifred Bryant and Frederick Sprague Boyce and grew up in nearby Cape Elizabeth. His father worked on the Portland waterfront and his mother in the public health lab for the city. He graduated from Cape Elizabeth High School in 1967.

After leaving M.I.T. in 1973 he drove to Alaska driving to Alaska with a friend and stayed in Haines. He began longshoring, and operated a concrete and roofing business. The company did of its work at night, as their old truck, when fully loaded, “was patently illegal,” said former wife Annie Boyce.

Boyce hiked and hunted goats and began fishing commercially from a small dory. In December 1980 he married Anne Neilly, a former classmate from Cape Elizabeth, who had attended elementary school with Boyce.

In 1981 Boyce hauled from Maine to Haines the lobster-boat-style hull that became the Eleanor S., named for his then infant daughter. He spent the next nine years building the boat.

Boyce hunted moose 37 years and got one last fall after a 22-year drought. Craig Loomis said Boyce was always prepared for the worst on a hunting trip, and lashed his gear to a raft or canoe and wore his gun backwards, across his chest, to keep it clean.

He had a dry sense of humor and often played practical jokes. When Loomis shot a moose that appeared to be barely legal, Boyce enlisted a trooper to pretend that after closer inspection, the horns were not legal, and the meat would be confiscated. “That Dick could get the trooper in it with him, that is what’s pretty amazing,” Loomis said. Boyce also had a stash of bright pink vehicle impoundment stickers he salvaged from the City of Haines that he would put on friend’s rigs at the boat harbor.

When he was in town Boyce made daily rounds for coffee and a chat with friends, elders, and neighbors. Later, “he just extended those rounds to coffee shops in Massachusetts, Maine, Colorado and Oregon where my sisters and I were going to school,” said daughter Lucinda Boyce.

He also took off-season trips to Maine, and remained close to his siblings. His brother Douglas Boyce, a frequent visitor to Haines said, “For 58 years my brother was my best friend. He was pretty much revered by everybody back east because there was nothing he couldn’t do. He could size up a problem, whether it was fixable or whether you should start over, which is an important distinction to make.”

Boyce’s sister Sherri Cook said he always made time for people, “to an astonishing degree.” She noted that even though he had more projects in various stages of completion than could be finished in a lifetime, “he never let the ‘stuff’ that needed to get done keep him from spending the time he could with his daughters, his family, his friends, the people that made up his world, however far-flung they might be.”

In recent winters Boyce had been rebuilding a live-aboard sailboat in Bremerton, Wash. which he named the Karlu after Karen and Lucinda.

Richard Boyce leaves daughters Ellie of Fairbanks, and Lucinda and Karen of Haines, siblings Douglas of Standish, Maine, and Sherri Cook of Buxton, Maine, an aunt, uncle, and several cousins, nieces and nephews.

Donations may be made to the Richard Boyce Inflatable Suspender Memorial Fund, the goal of which is to buy flotation suspenders for all of the approximately 77 Haines fisherman, at PO Box 418, Haines AK 99827.