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  1. #1
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    Default Phil Bolger is Dead. Vale Phil Bolger

    From Susan Altenburger his partner.



    Subject: [bolger] The saddest of news

    Date: Monday, May 25, 2009, 7:35 PM

    In the early morning hours of Sunday May 24th 2009 Philip Cunningham Bolger of 66 Atlantic Street, Gloucester, Massachusetts took his own life, out of his own free will, shooting himself in the head with his Colt 45. I awoke later to his absence and found his body on our property out of public sight. The matter is under routine investigate by the Massachusetts State Police and Gloucester Police Department.

    He had observed the progression of declining mental faculties in earlier generations of his family. He expressed this concern as early as forty years ago while discussing science fiction with one nephew. Phil speculated about developing a machine to test for senility; the patient would be killed painlessly if the machine determined the onset of senility. The point was to relieve the individual of any terrifying concerns about a slow, pernicious, and painful demise.

    By May '09 at 81 he was in excellent physical shape for his age. What Phil and I, his wife and full business partner Susanne Altenburger had come to notice over a number years were intermittent but mounting episodes of apparent cognitive decline ranging from near funny to seriously disturbing. In business it came to express itself in a less efficient design process and diminishing productivity. On the personal level his recognition of the condition went from not noticing, over denying it, to gradually recognizing that he would not be spared either. We openly and soberly discussed the repercussions, options, and likely outcomes of this unfolding reality. And he made amply clear his insistence on controlling his final fate if at all possible.

    This reality emerged amidst an intriguing series of consultancies for US Navy, and increasing pro-bono work (1750+hrs) in an effort to prepare the Gloucester commercial fishing fleet for the age of $5.-+/gal.

    - The relationship with Navy has just recently been refreshed again in a warm and productive encounter with our client/patron, a Division Director at NAVSEA.

    - On the 'Low-Carbon' fisheries-project he recently has had opportunity to personally present the policy-proposal to Congressman John Tierney's respectful and encouraging reception, with key policy-advisors in both U.S. Senator's offices studying the proposal as well. He did take great comfort in the trust and support expressed by 40 local professional fishermen of all tribes and fisheries, a select number of shore-side stake-holders, and the continued encouragement by New England's Conservation Law Foundation. But after well over six emotionally exhausting years his efforts had yet to find constructive reflection in catalyzing jobs- and tax-base-generating marine-industrial local and state public policy for his ailing home-port, America's oldest Seaport of Gloucester.

    The mounting stress of working on these serious and pressing matters alongside the regular design-work affected Phil's and Susanne's health, nerves and outlook more and more. So much was at stake and yet options were diminishing. A broad range of attempts to modify Phil's and Susanne's work routine to accommodate his slowing productivity proved ultimately unsuccessful. In the end, as defined by Phil this Sunday morning, he came to conclude that the inevitability of progressively losing his intellectual faculties and psychological strength had been confirmed often enough. He would not wait until he could no longer clearly discern the curve of his mental decline and concurrent emotional weakening.

    Phil's personal life and body of work were an expression of firmly defined and ever broadened independence from deeply-entrenched conventions, intangible superstitions, and other known limitations on the free use of mind and thus sound judgment. He lived that way and decided to leave us that way.

    He stated repeatedly that he has had 'a good ride', he marveled at many small and larger instance of good luck, was immensely pleased to have on major occasions in his life taken the right decisions - including asking me to join him in life and work - and expressed no fear of dying, only his concern for survivors. And without you all there none of this would have been more than some obsessive compulsive need to cover paper with ink.

    We both understood, along now with a growing number in his family and friends, that there would never be a 'good time' to lose him, only that things would most likely become worse for him and us.

    Phil Bolger's body of work will remain with Phil Bolger & Friends, Inc. under my guidance. Over fifteen years of shared life and work, Phil had progressively made the explicit point for me to gradually assume the conceptual leadership of the venture with more and more of the work developed by me and vetted by Phil's deep and broad personal and historic perspective. With his death is lost his immense personal knowledge, unceasing inquisitiveness, constructive contrarianism, quick and warm humor, casual if not mischievous wit, and so often joyful outlook on to the next project.

    I have had to let go of my closest deepest friend, this most encouraging and understanding master of his craft and art. I feel amputated in ways yet to be fathomed. He counted on my and your resilience to use the spirit of his work to make the most of our time on water in work and play.

    Funeral and Memorial arrangements have not yet been made.

    His request is to be cremated.

    Mid-term it would seem an appropriate expression of love and respect for Phil Bolger to consider assembling here in Gloucester the largest fleet ever of his designs in all sizes and configurations for a memorial day on the waters that shaped, nurtured, and inspired him. Perhaps late summer/early fall would allow enough time for this project. Cape Ann has a campsite, numerous motels, lots of protected waters to overnight on. As the immediate vehemence of this loss will eventually wear off some, I would be very gratified to help structure this event. I hope that Phil Bolger's Friends will take it upon themselves to organize this salute to him.

    Susanne Altenburger, in this time of grief with ever so important assistance by Holbrook Robinson, and Tom and Ben Bolger who were here, immediately, helping me focus with sound council based on personal connections with Phil for far longer than I ever had.

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  3. #2
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    Sad that he has gone, but nothing became him more than the manner of his passing. It is difficult to take responsibility in such a direct way, it is certainly not "the coward's way out"
    Cheers

    Jeremy
    If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well it were done quickly

  4. #3
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    True enough that it is direct. But I guess neither way is really a coward's way out.

    Just thinking back through what I know ... I know before he met Susan he was living with his mum and when she died he sold the house and moved into his wonderful boat Resolution.

    So I suspect he was the carer or even the sole carer for his mum. I think that would colour things very significantly.

    Best wishes

  5. #4
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    Thanks for the post Mik

  6. #5
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    I just wrote something for the general PDRacer group. The PDRacer was derived from the Bolger "Brick".

    So ... who in terms of legacy is the greatest designer in the last hundred or so years?

    I would think it would be a close run between Nat Herreshoff and Bolger. Herreshoff was revolutionary in many ways .. and fed into the yachting mainstream .. because that is where his connections were.

    I think Bolger has actually redefined the yachting mainstream. I think there is a very good chance that conventional sailing boats will either die out (the signs are all around with the reduction of participants and clubs and organisations) because of expense or evolve to a more Bolgeresque proportion.

    Think how many boats from Bolger that are like nothing that has been before.
    Micro
    The step Sharpies
    The State class Riverboats - Tennessee etc
    Modern Sharpies
    And a whole swag of 'Gold Platers' that you could place in the middle of any fleet of classy yachts knowing they would look right at home.

    Then add to that the countless people inspired and the boats that have been launched and it becomes completely boggling
    You would have to add the designs of Michelak, Reuel Parker and others who have been influenced as I have.

    And the number just goes up and up the more you look at it.

    Some of this is because of the era, but compare with any other designer in the the "small" art of boat design and nobody comes close.

    Just Think ... none of us (in the PDRacer discussion group) would be here if it wasn't for Philip C. Bolger.

  7. #6
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    Actually, another that has had a similar effect was the great Jack Holt - Mirror, Heron, Enterprise. He is the guy that got average people onto the water and laid the foundations for clubs through his easy to build boats in the '50s and '60s, so similar in the numbers affected, but nothing like the diversity of design.

  8. #7
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    Michael. Phil Bolger's free thinking, open mind and strength to carry those ideas through to design and build must have influenced your own design thinking and actions greatly.

    Here am I, just beginning to get a little bit scared of reactions at Beale where I know a high percentage will think RAID41 very strange. After all most small wooden boats are very traditional. I overheard a guy last year saying even Swallow Boats were not traditional enough to like. So I too need to carry my convictions through, easy at Keyhaven on my own ground, not so easy at Beale and look for the free thinkers. After all, that's why I am here, on this forum, to associate with other free thinking people. Let Phil Bolger's and Michael's clear free thinking, and actions, be an example to us all.

    My sympathies to Phil's family and friends and also to you Michael.

    Brian

  9. #8
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    I don't think of Phil like most do. The majority picture his box boats, many thinking them something only a mother could love, which I have to admit I'm one of. I think of his brilliance, innovations, the huge body of work, efforts with local fisheries, work with the navy, the custom and commercial commissions he's penned. Eventually the body of his efforts will be realized, likely a book or two or four and he'll get his deserved seat in the big hall.

  10. #9
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    Sad news indeed...
    Aloha!
    Robert Hoffman
    http://robhosailor.blogspot.com/


  11. #10
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    This is incredibly sad news. I have had tremendous admiration for Phil and his designs since I first started looking at sailing boats. My admiration has only been increased by his courage in taking control of his own destiny. I was going to change my signature, but I think I will leave it in his memory.

    Rest in peace, Phil.

    clay
    "The best boats are either small enough to carry home, or big enough to live on." Phillip C. Bolger (1927-2009)

  12. #11
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    81's not a bad innings, no matter how you go. Sad news but I guess it had to happen eventually and few people can claim to have had the impact he had.

    Richard

  13. #12
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    Not being a "boatie", I didn't know much of Phil Bolger, but I have recently watched my mother struggle through years of gradually declining health, and an accompanying onset of, and worsening of, dementia. She died recently with little control over any part of her life or her being, without speech or mental capacity, no longer knowing and therefore being able to acknowledge her husband or her children.

    My brother and sisters have all recently had conversations about the same topic that must have occupied Phil's mind a lot for those 40 years. I can only wonder at, and applaud the tremendous courage of his convictions and hope that if the same genetics that affected my mother, get me or mine, that we are equal to that courage and conviction. I know he will truely rest with his own peace.

  14. #13
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    Howdy .. Gavin Atkins has a pic of the boat that Bolger reckoned would get him into heaven.

    The Gloucester light dory.

    It is on his rather remarkable blog.
    http://intheboatshed.net/

    I hope Phil has collected! (I think he has)

    MIK

  15. #14
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    I'd like to see a well researched, well written biography- perhaps it could be called 'Life with an Open Mind'
    Charter boat? What charter boat!?

  16. #15
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    Default Obituary in NYT

    I found this obituary on the net from the New York Times:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/01/us/01bolger.html

    GregF

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