Edward Webb Latham passed away peacefully in the home in which he was born Friday, July 25, 2014, surrounded by his loving family. He was born June 6, 1922, on the kitchen table (he always claimed) at Latham Farms in Orient.
His early years were spent torturing his older sisters, Elinor, Blanche and Katharine. Upon his father’s (Daniel Terry Latham) death in 1944, he and his mother (Grace Young) jointly operated the farm until her death in 1948. During those years the farm was recovering from the devastating saltwater incursions from the hurricanes of 1938 and 1944. From that time until his retirement at age 71 in 1993, he worked the farm every day for 49 years.
He was a transformative farmer on Long Island in the 1940s, ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. After the Great Depression and World War II most farmers were stuck on the old ways, which meant potatoes, cabbages, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. The dependence on these crops alone spelled doom for East End farms. Ed led the way in diversifying to more profitable crops: string beans, cucumbers and sweet corn. Rather than go to market with his produce, Ed made deals with Boston supermarket chains, which regularly sent trailers to haul his superior produce to New England markets.
In the late ’60s, he led the way into more perishable crops like strawberries (for which his farm is still well known), lettuce, melons and tomatoes. He was the first local farmer to branch out into the farm stand business, which has mushroomed in recent years.
Latham Farms was designated a Century Farm in 1975 by the New York State Agricultural Society in recognition of the farm’s being operated by the same family beginning in 1806 and lasting for over 100 years. Latham Farms is now operated by Ed’s son, Daniel, and Daniel’s wife, Patti Lee. They have two farm stand locations in Orient and Greenport and supply produce to several specialty produce wholesalers. It has also expanded into a major supplier of fresh flowers on the East End. Ed was exceptionally proud of Dan and Patti Lee’s dedication and success.
Even with his schedule of seven-day workweeks for nine months per year, Ed found time to become active within his local community. He was elected to the Orient school board in 1955 and was elected president in 1958. He remained in this position until 1983. Under his leadership the school district consolidated with East Marion to become Oysterponds School. The current school was built in 1966 and the large ball field was acquired soon after, all under Ed’s direction and leadership.
Ed served a stint as trustee of Eastern Long Island Hospital in the 1960s. He was a leader of the Long Island Farm Bureau in the 1950s. He joined the Orient Fire Department in the early 1940s and was a 72-year life member. He was also a member of both the Orient and the Chinese yacht clubs. In recent years he rarely missed a meeting of the Southold Rotary Club, where he was the last surviving member of the “old boys” club.
After retiring from farming, his wife, Helen, inspired and encouraged Ed to travel to more than 30 countries, most by cruise ships. His last trip was on the new Queen Mary 2 in 2012, where he was not surprised to be served Latham Farms heirloom tomatoes in the Grill Class Dining Room.
Ed and Helen spent part of the winter in Florida and most of the year in Orient on the farm so Ed could watch the crops grow, mow his lawn, and tend the Latham Family Cemetery. Ed loved to clam in a secret spot in Hallock Bay and was known to pursue the elusive striped bass. He developed a remarkable skill at Scrabble, although Helen maintains he cheated.
He is survived by his wife of 22 years, Helen (née Fitzpatrick) Latham and his son, Daniel Terry (Patti Lee) Latham, all of Orient; his daughter Patricia (George) Gray of Rochester; his grandsons, Michael (Colleen) McClelland of Sacramento, Calif., and Peter Gray of New York; his granddaughters, Kristin (Jeffrey) Claire of Portland, Ore., Stacie (Adam) Thompson of Middletown, Conn., and Erin (Ashton) Stanton of Northampton, N.H.; his sister Elinor (Ralph) Williams of Orient; seven great-grandchildren; and five nieces and nephews. He was predeceased by his first wife, Ann Newman Latham; his eldest daughter, Susan McClelland; and his sisters Blanche (Edward) Clingen and Katharine (John) Leslie.
The family will receive visitors Thursday, July 31, from 4 to 7 p.m. at DeFriest-Grattan Funeral Home in Southold. A funeral will be held Friday, Aug. 1, at 10:30 a.m. at Orient Congregational Church.
The family would like to meet all those who care to join them at a luncheon immediately following services at Poquatuck Hall, 1160 Skipper’s Lane, Orient. Of course there will be joyous remembrances of Ed’s life to be shared by all.
The family requests contributions in Ed’s name be made to East End Hospice, P.O. Box 1048, Westhampton Beach, NY 11978.
This is a paid notice.