Years back I was sitting on a tree stump right off Three-Mile-Harbor in the presence of Anthony Drexel Duke, with him telling me fabulous stories about his life. Tony Duke was a scion of three distinguished families: the Biddles, the Drexels and, of course, the Duke family that funded Duke University using tobacco money in 1896.
Tony passed away on April 30th, 2014 at 95 years old. The next time you witness the Fireworks of Three Mile Harbor, remember that the tradition was started by Tony Duke in 1979. He personally underwrote the cost of yearly mid-July fireworks until Mr. Grucci Sr. (of the fireworks family) donated the then $27,000 firework display annually. Grucci financed the fireworks until Boys Harbor was closed. That last year Mr. Duke hosted the fireworks at Three Mile Harbor, I was actually a guest of his at his home above the camp, along with hundreds of others.
Since it’s “Coronation time in England,” I might mention that the Duke of Windsor and the Duchess of Windsor used to be guests at the home of Mr. Duke’s mother and her significant other, T. Markoe Robertson, in Southampton. The Duke of Windsor as you may know was supposed to be King Edward VIII but chose a life with Wallace Simpson instead. Prince Harry Windsor didn’t quite sacrifice the actual crown for Megan now did he? Anyway, on the Duke of Windsor’s annual social circle world tour there would be yearly rounds of golf.
One stop each year for the Duke of Windsor would be at National Golf Links of America. He usually played with Paul Shields, Brooke Shields’ grandfather. Herbie Edwards, a Southampton local, was his caddie a few times. In 2006, Herbie told me that back in August 1944 the Duke tipped him $2 after a round at National. The very stylish Duke wore knickers and shot in the 80s. Herbie said he would recommend which clubs to use, as any good caddie does. T. Markoe Robertson, Tony Duke’s stepfather, also was in the group.
However, being an avid sailor, I have a favorite Tony Duke story. He said that while he was still a student at Princeton, he set up the mechanism that became Boys Harbor. The camp was established for underprivilged children from New York City by Tony Duke in 1937 when he was 19! After all that was set in motion, Mr. Duke said he invited a bunch of his new Princeton buddies to sail on a fine schooner he rented.
The trip was from East Hampton to Martha’s Vineyard. As they were charting courses for the trip, as Mr. Duke recalled, “One friend said we must stop off at Hyannis to pick up Jack! Jack was Jack Kennedy, who after the five-day sail became a dear friend of mine.” I understood what Tony Duke meant, when you are 19, and do an adventure with someone, you create a bond that carries on through a lifetime.
When I was 19, Tom Romero and I traveled across the U.S.A. to California. Then we went north across Canada for the way back. Sadly, Tom passed away on September 5th, 2022 at just 69 years old. I still can vividly remember some of the obscure locations we visited due to storms, flat tires and fatigue. For decades at least once a year we’d call each other and talk about that trip.
When folks sail with me in Gardiner’s Bay I remind them of the thrill Jack Kennedy always received from sailing. I love the photos of a young handsome Jack sailing, usually on a small boat no bigger than my 22’ Catalina. He always has a huge smile. On almost every sunset sail that I do in Gardiner’s Bay I have a ritual. I tell my local friends, like Diane, Roger, and especially Todd, the same thing. I always say, “Some of the most successful folks in the world, folks who own wonderful multimillion-dollar vacation homes, only get to spend a few weeks out here.” Then I remind them that we live our lives out here.