In his 21 years as president of the Board of Education at the historic New Suffolk School, James G. “Tony” Dill Jr. never wavered in his commitment to the students and staff.
He knew all the students by name — as few as there were — their teachers and staff, and if an alarm went off in the middle of the night he would get out of bed at his home a few blocks from the school and go to check it out.
“He was totally committed to the school,” said Mr. Dill’s wife, Ellen Dill. “He really believed in its mission in New Suffolk and the value of education. He was a true believer.”
Mr. Dill, who was always referred as Tony, died at his family’s home in New Suffolk on Aug. 16. He was 83.
Mr. Dill had a long connection to the hamlet of New Suffolk going back generations. His grandparents owned building lots off Jackson Street that were divided up among family members. Mr. Dill, a trained architect, designed a bayfront home on one of the lots very much in the style of Frank Lloyd Wright.
“He was very proud of this house,” Ms. Dill said. “He designed it and Sid Beebe built it. It was very challenging. It was the first house Mr. Beebe ever saw with steel frame construction.”
Ms. Dill spoke with a visitor in the living room of the handsome home. The robins-egg blue water of the Peconic Bay shimmered through the large windows — a classic Wright design.
Mr. Dill graduated from Princeton University and worked in an architect’s office in Philadelphia. He helped in the design of Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania and projects on the campus of Rutgers University.
Summers in New Suffolk from his earliest years were a treasure. He learned to sail as a youngster and was a fixture at the Old Cove Yacht Club. His love of boats and the glory of the Peconic Bay — the view from his living room — never faded. Nor did his devotion to the New Suffolk School.
Mr. Dill stepped down as president of the board in June as health issues began to dominate.
“Tony was not a teacher,” Ms. Dill said. “He didn’t have a teaching degree. But he felt education was the most important gift anyone could have. He just had a love of this community and he wanted to keep the school open and functioning. “
Whether or not to keep the 116-year-old New Suffolk School open has long been a topic of debate in the hamlet. This fall the school is expected to have a total of six students in grades kindergarten to sixth. It is certain the fate of the school will come up again.
“He went to every fundraiser, every pancake breakfast — anything to help the school, which he loved so much,” Ms. Dill said. “He was passionate about keeping it going. It would break his heart if it closed.”