Ed Latham: ‘Wonderful person’ who love his family and farm

07/30/2014 8:00 AM |
The landmark Latham Farm Stand and its views of the bay. (Credit: Suffolk Times, file)

A Suffolk Times file photo of the landmark Latham Farm Stand and its views of the bay.

Ed Latham spent his last moments of life in the same place he spent his first moments of life, his home of Latham Farms in Orient.

He wouldn’t have it any other way.

“He was born on the farm and wanted to die on the farm,” said his nephew, Dick Leslie, also of Orient. “He wanted to watch his crops grow… He spent his last few weeks watching the corn come up.”

Mr. Latham, who was a prominent figure in Orient and known for his family farm, died on Friday, July 25, after a long struggle with artery disease.

Ed Latham

Ed Latham

He had turned 92 on June 6.

“He was just bigger than life. That’s the only way to describe him,” Mr. Leslie continued. “He was a presence in the Orient community and on the East End for over 70 years.”

Mr. Latham was born in 1922 and grew up on the farm, which has been in the family since 1806. He had three older sisters; Elinor, Blanche and Katharine. In 1944, after his father, Daniel Terry Latham, died, he and his mother Grace ran the farm.

When she died in 1948, he ran the farm himself, working every day until his retirement in 1993.

“We grew up together—we were very close,” said his sister, Elinor Williams, who’s older than him by two years. “I will miss him dearly. He was a great person — the friendliest person — everyone liked him. He was a great farmer and a very good business man too.”

During his years as an East End farmer Mr. Latham introduced the area to new and more profitable crops than the local staples, potatoes and cabbages. He brought in string beans, sweet corn, and in the late 1960s grew more perishable crops like the strawberries his farm is still famous for.

“I remember that he was a very progressive farmer for the North Fork,” said Kenny Schmitt, a retired farmer from Melville who is still an active member of the Suffolk County Agricultural and Farmland Protection Board.

Mr. Schmitt said he hadn’t seen Mr. Latham in over 20 years but knew him when Mr. Latham was at the peak of his business.

“His crops were very diversified; he wasn’t like some of the other farmers out there who kept growing only potatoes,” he explained. “He did very well during his tenure as a farmer.”

Though Mr. Latham cherished his farm, he had a life outside of the business, too.

He was elected to the Orient School Board in 1955 and was president from 1958 to 1983. He played a role in consolidating the East Marion and Orient districts to form the Oysterponds district, and oversaw the construction of the Oysterponds Elementary School in 1966.

Other hats he wore in the community included a trustee of the Eastern Long Island Hospital in the ’60s, leader of the Long Island Farm Bureau in the ’50s, a 72-year life member of the Orient Fire Department. He was also a longtime Southold Rotary member.

“Almost every kid in town worked for Eddie at one time or another,” Mr. Leslie said. “We learned the ethic of working hard from him. When it came to hard work, no one could keep up with him.”

A year before he retired, Mr. Latham married second wife Helen Fitzpatrick, a former teacher in Northport, whom he had met in Puerto Rico while they were both vacationing.

Although Mr. Latham was a North Fork man his entire life, he took advantage of his retirement by getting off of the island to travel.

“Ed wanted to see something outside of Eastern Long Island; he had been here his whole life and didn’t get to see much else,” Ms. Latham explained. “So we saw as much of the world as we could together—we did cruises, we went to the Greek Isles, Jordan, even Australia. I was glad we got to go when we did because with the illness he couldn’t have done that for much longer.”

Ms. Latham said her husband enjoyed the freedom of his retirement but still lived on the farm.

Even when he fell ill, he didn’t dream of being anywhere else.

“When he got sick he didn’t want to be cooped up in a nursing home—he wanted to stay in his home—so we were able to make that work for him,” she added. “We were able to get his wheelchair out on the front porch so he could sit and look out at the fields; he just wanted to be on the farm.”

In 1975, Latham Farms was designated a Century Farm by the New York State Agricultural Society for its ownership by the same family lasting over 100 years. Currently Mr. Latham’s son Daniel and his wife Patti Lee operate the farm.

The wake for Mr. Latham will be held on Thursday, July 31, from 4 to 7 p.m. at DeFriest-Grattan Funeral Home in Southold and the funeral will be held on Friday, Aug. 1, at 10:30 a.m. at the Orient Congregational Church. There will be a luncheon following the funeral from noon to 2 p.m. at Poquatuck Hall in Orient where all who knew Mr. Latham are welcome to celebrate his life.

When asked about her husband’s personality, Ms. Latham chuckled and said “he was strong-willed.”

“He was very kind, and very good to his family,” she added. “He was basically just a wonderful person.”