Earl Vorhees led a full and varied life. Always curious and with a keen intellect, he loved the journey of exploring new things. His friends half-jokingly called him “the most interesting man in the world.” Husband, father, thespian, teacher, writer, factory manager, labor organizer, timber-framer, yacht and barn restorationist, skier and sailor — he was passionate about them all.
Earl Vorhees Jr. was born Dec. 3, 1934, in Wewoka, Okla., to Earl Vorhees Sr., a foreman laying the Standard Oil pipeline network, and Stella Hancock Vorhees, a formidable horsewoman. An only child, Earl Jr., known as “Sonny-Earl” to his family, was influenced by the fierce independence and courage of his parents, who endured the hardships of the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. From this, and from his childhood memories of World War II American solidarity, his character was imbued early on with a pragmatic can-do self-reliance.
Earl took pride in telling people he was from the same hometown as Neil Armstrong, Wapakoneta, where his family moved in the late 1930s. With equal interests in music and sports, young Earl took trumpet lessons from a music teacher in nearby Celina, which stood on the shore of Grand lake St. Marys. The era of touring big bands brought exciting swing musicians to Celina’s waterfront dance pavilions and formed Earl’s lifelong appreciation of dance and music, particularly swing, bebop, and later the Afro-Brazilian style. Earl was proud to say he shook hands with Louis Armstrong. What a wonderful world indeed.
Earl married Connie K. Richardson in 1953 and, before the marriage ended, they had two sons; Kirk A. Reed, 60, of New Corydon, Ind., and Sean M. Reed, 56, of Oxnard, Calif. Earl leaves four surviving grandsons; Kerry, Kristopher, Kevyn and Kelly Reed; and seven great-grandchildren. Connie Vorhees predeceased Earl.
Earl Vorhees studied acting in Cleveland. He received an associate degree from Orange County College in Santa Cruz, Calif., which he attended on a football scholarship. But New York City was his real education. He arrived in 1959 and took up residence in Greenwich Village, where he pursued his stage acting career. He was a regular in the White Horse and the Cedar Bar with likeminded actors, writers, musicians, painters, seaman and dock-workers. In the Village, his shared concern for racial equality and social fairness forged his lifelong Democratic principals.
In the mid-1960s he met and married a Brazilian dancer and actress named Maria De Oliveira, and because neither wanted to pursue a film career, they moved upstate to Chichester, N.Y. Earl was hired on in a local manufacturing plant that produced custom hardwood library furniture for large architectural firms. The plant fueled its steam boilers with its own sawdust, which in turn powered its machinery with leather belts. Fascinated by the green energy model, aware of the decline of small American shops, and motivated to preserve the craftsmen’s jobs, he became the factory’s manager until it closed in the early 1970s.
Earl and Maria moved to her native Rio De Janeiro and lived the Carioca lifestyle together until the marriage dissolved. She later predeceased him. An ex-pat bachelor’s life agreed with Earl. The country was in great political strife then and Earl sympathized with the displaced poor and under-represented indigenous peoples. In the late 1970s, he taught at a language institute, where his fellow teachers described him as a labor organizer. During his Brazilian residency, Earl became a connoisseur of Brazilian music, culture and dance. Earl spoke Portuguese well.
After returning to New York in 1980, Earl met his soul mate and 32-year partner, Pat Mundus, in SoHo’s Fanelli’s Cafe. Pat introduced Earl to the East End’s natural environment and the serenity of exploring intertidal estuaries by small boat. They fell in love while hanging over the side of a small rowboat wearing diving masks in Northwest Creek (East Hampton), watching the blue-eyed scallops dance in the eelgrass. The two eventually bought a piece of land on the east side of the creek. With the goal of creating an old Northwest settlement, the couple dismantled five antique barns from Chenango County, N.Y., documenting and labeling them to be restored and re-erected on the creek. With Earl’s carpetry skills and Pat’s seaman’s rigging skills, they formed a synergistic couple beyond compare, and conducted the timber framing project the “old-fashioned way,” without the use of cranes or mechanical assistance. Their relationship and joy in planning and performing honest — and heavy — work with gin poles, come-alongs and block-and-tackles was as artful as the project itself. The couple fondly described each other as “the one on the other end of the beam.”
Earl gained his appreciation of the marine environment in the East End waters, sailing an engineless 28-foot Rozinante ketch for over a decade. They named the boat Pearl, a contraction of Pat and Earl combined. Earl and Pat shared a mutual love for self-reliance in the wild, catching their own food en route and propelled solely by the wind. Twice they sailed their 17-foot custom-rigged sailing kayak through the length of the Exuma chain of the Bahamas, diving up conch and lobsters and camping on the beach without much more supplies than a few onions, some olive oil, rice, and a bottle of Mount Gay rum. Later, having restored a 57-foot wood-cruising ketch, the couple returned several times to spend winters in the Bahamas and southern U.S. waters. During the last third of his life, Earl became an experienced offshore sailor. He completed a transatlantic voyage in 2000 and sailed on oil tankers with Pat, a seagoing chip’s officer. However, his real love remained the simplicity of a good small boat. Paddling his kayak out into the liquid gold of the Northwest Creek’s sunset, just to sit immersed in the moment — solitary and timeless — was Earl’s daily ritual every summer evening for two decades.
After 25 years of living on Northwest Creek, Earl and Pat sold their barns and moved to Greensport, where Earl hiked the entire waterfront every morning. Earl was a self-taught student of yacht design and classic yacht history. He possessed a razor-sharp memory and could discuss yachting history with ease. Dinner party conversations often involved friendly challenges about yachting esoteric and design details, resolved by delving into Earl’s extensive library. Earl was an integral part of his wife’s crewed yacht business, East End Charters, LLC.
After a five-month chemotherapy battle against acute myeloid leukemia, Earl passed away on July 10, 2013, surrounded by love and with his wife by his side, at home in Greenport. He directed his family and friends to celebrate life, not mourn death. He asked that no funeral or memorial service be held. His remains were cremated. A celebration of his life is being planned for the fall.
Memorial donations can be made to East End Hospice, P.O. Box 1048, Westhampton Beach, N.Y., 11978-7048.