What we have lost
These remarks were made by Ben Martens at the celebration of life event for Joe Nickerson. Chairman of the board of MCFA.
Joe was a doer. He was a man who saw a problem, assessed it, and did what needed to be done. I spent a lot of time talking with Joe and after the issue at hand was resolved, I always took a lot of joy from getting him to talk about whatever project he was undertaking. He’d be painting the house, fixing the pool, mending a net, redoing the kitchen, rewiring a boat, or checking off one the many other “to do” items on his list.
When I would give him a hard time about always working, he would jokingly claim that Sharon was trying to keep him out of the house with chores, and then he would tell me he had to go and get back to work because that was Joe. He got things done.
Joe was a teacher. He was one of the fishermen who hired me and honestly, I was in way over my head. I didn’t know anything about Maine’s fisheries, but Joe wanted to help me understand all of it. It didn’t matter if it was something Joe had learned from his dad when he was five, he took the time to not only teach me what I needed to know but also made me comfortable to ask and learn. I’m really going to miss those long conversations over a beer on the dock, or in a ripped apart boat and I can’t help but be sad thinking about all the things he still had to teach.
And Joe was a leader. There are some people who are born leaders, they come into a situation and immediately say “follow me.” That wasn’t Joe. Joe took his time, he dug into the issues, he contemplated, and when he spoke people listened. That isn’t to suggest that he didn’t run hot at times, I’ve heard the stories, but that wasn’t the Joe that I knew. He wasn’t shy or timid, far from it, he spoke with intent and purpose and folks around him grew to respect not only his work ethic on the water but the ideas and he brought to meetings and shared with the fishing community.
Every year, for the past ten years, a group of over 40 fishermen elected Joe to serve on the board of directors for the Maine Coast Community Sector. Last year Joe was elected as Chairman of the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association. I don’t think these were things that Joe set out to accomplish, but they were roles he accepted, hopefully with a lot of pride, because the fishermen around him wanted him in those roles. He didn’t plan to be a leader, but when he was called upon to be one, he rose to the challenge and that is what he became.
Joe meant a lot to me. He meant a lot to all of us. He was a great man and a good friend and the embodiment of what it means to be a Maine fisherman in a changing world. Joe didn’t pick an easy life, but he picked a life that he loved, and he fought for that way of life every day. Today Maine is less because we have lost a doer, a teacher, and a leader. If Joe was here though, I think he would tell all of us to go out and do a little more, teach what we know, and lead in whatever way we can so that we can all share in filling the void he has left behind.