RIP Chester B. Fish Jr.
My dad died six hours ago. His name was Chester B. Fish, Jr. At age 93, dad outlived my mom by two years. And among his parents and two brothers, dad was the last man standing.
Had you asked me if I have any of my father’s mannerisms, I would have answered an honest “no.” Then in 2003, as a part-time panelist on Maine Public Broadcasting’s “Public Opinion” tv show, I was shocked to see myself with my father’s facial expressions and body language.
Of his five children, I am the only one to follow in his journalism footsteps. Although that never crossed my mind until my mom mentioned it years ago when I was Modern Drummer magazine’s Managing Editor. My dad worked mostly as an Outdoor Life magazine editor, including as Editor-in-Chief.
He switched to book publishers the last stretch of his career, working as Acquisitions Editor for Scribner’s, David McKay, and Stackpole.
Dad never warmed to computers. I’m told that was his undoing in the publishing business. While co-workers were transitioning to word processing, dad stuck to his typewriter. Someone else had to retype my dad’s work into a computer. Not a winning economic model.
My attempts to assure dad he could get the hang of computers — and be glad — failed. He acted as if he was afraid if he pushed a wrong button the family computer would self-destruct in a shower of sparks and smoke.
But I certainly do remember many weekends of dad on the living room couch editing magazine manuscripts, or banging away on his green-and-tan Royal typewriter, which I still have.
I credit my father with instilling in me love of the outdoors. Most of our family vacations were tent camping. I don’t think mom was thrilled vacationing in tents with four young kids; two girls and two boys born within seven years. But those were good times for me.
Along with years in outdoor journalism, dad grew up on a tree nursery, and was an Eagle Scout. He taught us how to build a safe campfire — even with flint and steel; how to tie rope knots, how to police a campsite; how to catch a fish and prepare it for eating, how to cook over a campfire; how to shoot a rifle, gun safety; how to use axes, knives, and hatchets.
Among my favorite memories: My brother, Craig, and I are little kids, probably four and five years old. Dad is holding white birch bark and saying, “You can get this birch bark as wet as you want — I can still use it to start a campfire.”
What? Sure our dad has underestimated our abilities with garden hose and water bucket, Craig and I drowned the piece of bark. We hand the bark back to dad, and he sets it afire with one match. Wow!
Of all environmental histrionics over the last 20 years — there’s not one I didn’t learn about from dad. And he taught me without using fear and scare tactics, but with basic outdoor common sense.
I wish my dad had more interest in communicating with his kids as adults, especially after we kids scattered over many states. But the very few times my dad initiated phone calls, it was at my mom’s urging: “Why don’t you call Scott and see how he’s doing?”
In the last few years, one of my calls to dad was fairly long. We had a very good time chatting, maybe our best phone call ever. As our call was nearing its end, dad said, “Well, Scott. This has been a good phone call. But we probably shouldn’t count on doing this on a regular basis.”
In the grand scheme of fatherhood? Well done, dad. I wish we could have known each other better, but, thank you, dad, for my life.
We’ll catch up some other time.
Scott K. Fish has served as a communications staffer for Maine Senate and House Republican caucuses, and was communications director for Senate President Kevin Raye. He founded and edited AsMaineGoes.com and served as director of communications/public relations for Maine’s Department of Corrections until 2015. He is now using his communications skills to serve clients in the private sector.