Oliver Hazard Perry, best known on Martha’s Vineyard as “Johnny Seaview,” a man with a song and a story for every occasion who spontaneously dispensed flowers to ladies he came across from a bouquet he often gathered with the same free spirit that marked his life, died on December 12, 2012, in the Glen Ridge Nursing Center in Malden, where he had spent the last months of his life battling cancer. He was 84.
Oliver Hazard Perry was born at the Lawrence Memorial Hospital, in a blizzard, on March 14, 1928. (The cost of his delivery was $31, he reported.) He was the son of Edward H. Perry and Anna E. (Burke) Perry. After spending time in the Marines, he was married in 1948 to the late Elizabeth Ann Gilmartin and lived in New Jersey and Cambridge. He came to the Vineyard in the early 1960s with Dick Manley, the tree surgeon.
In 1967, Loretta Balla, owner of the Seaview Hotel in Oak Bluffs, hired him as a bartender. From that time until the Seaview changed hands and was demolished to make way for condominiums, Johnny could be found dispensing equal parts ribald jokes, philosophy, racehorse talk, and beer behind the oak bar.
On the first Saturday in May, when it was time for the “Run for the Roses,” Johnny could be found dressed to a tee with a fine Stetson and a Racing Form in hand. Once flowers appeared in the spring, Johnny, a general bon vivant, was apt to pop into any Vineyard establishment and pull a flower from a bouquet of flowers and hand it to a lady.
Johnny never slowed down. Even as he aged, he remained trim and fit and carried a chainsaw as an accessory, ready for work.
Like many Islanders who recall the rollicking Seaview, good friend Michael DelloRusso of Oak Bluffs first met Johnny tending bar. Asked what distinguished Johnny, Mr. DelloRusso said, “Just his friendliness and openness and willingness to stop what he was doing and help people out.”
Barbara Nolan, Johnny’s sister, said, “He really was truly one of a kind.” Many Islanders would agree.
John was the loving father of Daniel Perry of Maine, John Perry of Medford, and Cheryl Arsenault of Peabody. Devoted brother of Ms. Nolan of Las Vegas, Audrey Randall of N.J., Ronald Perry of Medford, and the late Edward Perry Jr., Robert Perry, Paul Perry, Donald Perry, Eleanor Freeland, and Joan Garneau. He was the cherished grandfather of seven grandchildren and two great grandchildren. Also survived by many nieces, nephews, dear friends, and family.
A Christian burial will be held at Oak Grove Cemetery in Medford. His family will hold a celebration of his life in March on Martha’s Vineyard to thank all his wonderful friends who always sent kind thoughts and cards over the years.
Condolences and expressions of sympathy may be sent to the Gaffey Funeral Home, 43 High Street, Medford, MA, 1-781-396-7700.