Last Aug. 26, my father, lifelong Orient resident Stewart W. Y. Horton, died suddenly at age 80. His passing left a hole in my heart that has been slow to heal.
I did not have the words last summer to talk about my dad, as the loss was too piercing, but since he played such a big part in his community and because so many people came forward to share personal stories of how he impacted their lives, I thought it was only appropriate to honor him and share his family’s role in shaping our town.
My father had a deep love for the beauty and history of Orient and the surrounding hamlets. He loved to explore the beauty of its environment and study its history, including how his own family, who settled here in 1640, fit into its evolution.
A conservationist at heart, my father received a B.S. in biology from Cornell University, earned his wings as a private pilot and served in the Air Force. He later volunteered to help manage the Orient-East Marion Park District for 20 years, helping to foster a natural balance with wildlife in preserving the beauty around Truman’s Beach. Much like his own father, Schuyler W. Horton, a New York state senator and Southold Town supervisor for 16 years, my dad had a natural penchant for service to the community. My grandfather, “Skipper,” was widely known for being the political founder of Stony Brook University and had been friendly with future president Franklin D. Roosevelt when he was governor of New York.
Dad operated at a more local level. He was a founding member of the Orient-East Marion Rescue Squad, which was conceived around our kitchen table, as well as a volunteer fireman. Through his fire service, he spent nearly 40 years helping people in our community in moments of crisis. He was known as “the calm during the storm” for his incredible kindness and sense of humor.
As boys, my father and his brother and best friend, David, grew up in the Horton House on historic Village Lane, next to the Methodist church. Their great-great-grandfather and great-grandfather, Ezra Young and James Henry Young, built the homestead as well as the original Orient Union Grammar School, the Bliss House and Poquatuck Hall. Their childhood house had been the family home of their mother, Martha Mattice, who was born in 1901. She was a beautiful woman who was a classically trained concert pianist, model, singer, dance instructor and actress. She was an original Gibson Girl, the personification of the feminine ideal of physical attractiveness in that era, having posed for the famous illustrator Charles Dana Gibson. My grandmother was a spitfire who danced during the Roaring Twenties, driving around in a Stutz-Bearcat.
My dad was only 3 when the infamous Hurricane of 1938 swept through the North Fork with little advance notice, and he witnessed the Methodist church steeple torn from the roof by the wind as the bell landed on Village Lane. My grandfather was a member of the Orient Point Yacht Club and would take his sons on sailing expeditions as far north as Cape Cod. They also won the Shelter Island race four years in a row. Throughout their lives, my dad and his brother enjoyed clamming and scalloping out on Hallocks Bay and along Narrow River Road.
My father’s family were all early charter members in the founding of the Oysterponds Historical Society. My father ran the S.B. Horton Furniture Company in Greenport while his brother, David, ran S.B. Horton Funeral Home.
One New Year’s Eve, my father was at Mitchell’s in Greenport when he met my mother, Florence Tuthill, daughter of Captain LeRoy Tuthill and Elizabeth Halsey of Greenport. My mother, who was quite stunning and had been a prom queen at Greenport High School, mentioned to him that she was taking her siblings ice skating the next day. The following afternoon, when she fell on the ice, she recalls seeing my father gliding toward her in a dark suit and scarf to help. She said it was like a movie and she knew in that moment that they were meant to be. They were married early in 1962 and later had their first son, who they named after my dad’s father, Schuyler, and who later gave him a granddaughter, May. A few years later they had me, then another son, Sean.
My parents had a grand time together as they had a very strong connection and loved to socialize, entertain and dance together. My mother always said they could just touch their hands together and there was always a spark.
My parents spent 55 years together and throughout their lives loved going to Truman’s Beach to simply watch the sunset. May that spark live on forever.
Top photo: An Orient resident his entire life, Stewart Horton felt at home on the water. (Credit: Horton family / courtesy)
‘Personal History’ is a new occasional feature from The Suffolk Times. Readers interested in sharing stories about themselves or their family’s life on the North Fork should email [email protected] and include the words ‘Personal History’ in the subject line.