Jack Koontz


Jack Samuel Koontz Jr. died at his home in Bourne on Saturday, July 16, after a long and determined battle with throat cancer. It was the second time in six years that he was laid low by this horrible disease. He was 70.

Born on May 13, 1946, in Washington, D.C., Jack was the son of Jack S. and Kathryne E. Koontz. He grew up in Edgewater, Md., just south of Annapolis. He graduated from Annapolis High School and attended the University of Maryland, an experience he preferred not to remember. After working as a lifeguard in Beverly Beach near his grandfather’s house, he became a tobacconist and arborist in Annapolis. He moved to Martha’s Vineyard in 1970, part of an influx of young people who had low-impact intentions, although they were viewed by many Islanders as a high-security threat. Some moved on after a winter or two here, while others, like Jack, wove themselves into the fabric of Island life. In a very used Ford Econoline van with everything he owned in the back, Jack chugged onto the Island with Silas, a collie mix as mellow as his master. Indivisible as two peas in a pod, friends half expected to see them sharing a smoke on Jack’s ubiquitous pipe.

Living in a one-room shack in the woods near the Tisbury–West Tisbury line, he found work as the Friendly Woodsman, felling, splitting, and delivering cordwood. Later he worked for Everett Poole, first driving a truck and then running the Chilmark Chandlery, which he built up into a full-service tackle shop.

After work, he played the guitar and trumpet, and loved to sing, whether alone or with friends. He entertained some friends with a broad repertoire of folk songs, from “Gilgarra Mountain” to “Darcy Farrow” to “The Banks of the Ohio”; with others he might share a Broadway show tune from “My Fair Lady,” “Camelot,” or “Guys and Dolls,” mimicking Rex Harrison or Richard Burton as he did so.

His passion for fishing flowered in the mid-1970s, first with surfcasting in the evening at the west end of Dogfish Bar, and later aboard Mooncusser, a 22-foot Aquasport that he ran as a charter boat out of Menemsha. Then came an outboard-powered Sisu, a Tripp Angler 22 inboard, and ultimately Julia, a black 25-foot Surfhunter I/O owned by Lillian Hellman, one of many prominent clients he consistently put on fish between Tashmoo and Squibnocket, Nomans and Cuttyhunk. He introduced many of them to the excitement of using light tackle instead of heavy trolling gear.

For several winters, he chartered out of South Seas Plantation, where Chilmarker Doug Fischer was head guide, on Captiva Island in Florida. In the early ’80s, he started Derby Jack’s Tackle Shop in the house next to Up-Island Auto on State Road in West Tisbury. (His friend Geoff Muldaur coined the name Derby Jack when Jack won the bluefish division of the Bass Derby.) As at the Chandlery in earlier years, the shop became a hangout for many up-Island fishermen, where tall tales of all sorts were the norm. For nearly a decade he wrote the weekly fishing column in the Vineyard Gazette, building a large following.

He was a terrific storyteller, relying on an encyclopedic memory for detail and emphatic gesticulations for color. He never had children, but he enjoyed those of his friends, reading to them, teaching them to fish, or just sharing his special take on the world with them.

When he wasn’t cutting wood or catching fish, he was a natty, though casual, dresser, always on the lookout for the perfect garment. With his head slightly cocked, due to a weak left eye, and his pipe in hand, he had a distinctive look, perhaps influenced by his affinity for Southern living. He liked looking good, and he was good at it.

Offseason during the mid-1980s, he worked for Salt Water Sportsman magazine, selling subscriptions at boat shows. Then in 1987 he was hired by Chilmarker Spider Andresen, co-owner and publisher of Salt Water Sportsman, to sell advertising in the mid-Atlantic region. He took to the work, and it to him, quickly and naturally, and soon he was sales representative for the East Coast. Coupled with his experience as a fisherman, his sincerity and diligence impressed both colleagues and clients. He enjoyed being part of a team, and he found the work fun and fulfilling. More significantly, in the long run, he met Jaye McAuliffe, who also worked at the magazine. The two married in 1998, the beginning of the happiest period of his life. They settled in Wrightsville Beach, N.C., a state near and dear to his heart, before moving to Bourne 10 years ago.

In addition to Jaye, he leaves his sister, Beth Cauffman of Sanford, Fla., her significant other Andrew, and her children, Shane and Casey Beth.

Also of importance to Jack since marrying Jaye were her family, which included her sister Carol Avery and her children, Daniel, Timothy, and Lis Pepin, as well as sister Nancy Sullivan, her husband Mike, and their children, Ryan and Neil.

To a host of friends up and down the East Coast and others farther afield, life won’t be the same without Jack Koontz, a true one-off.

A memorial service for Jack will be held at 11 am on Thursday, August 25, at the West Falmouth United Methodist Church, 636 W. Falmouth Highway (Rte. 28A), West Falmouth, with a gathering to follow in Bourne.

Contributions in Jack’s name may be made to the Betty Ann Lima Bryant Scholarship Fund, c/o Permanent Endowment Fund of Martha’s Vineyard, P.O. Box 1182, Oak Bluffs, MA 02557, or to the American Cancer Society.