He was a kind, warm person who anticipated the IYRS journey…
John Mecray, passed away Tuesday, October 31, 2017, two weeks following being a guest of honor at the grand opening of the new IYRS Brooks Building on the school’s Newport, RI campus. “He was the ultimate gentleman and absolutely a fantastic artist,” said George “Dooie” Isdale, former chairman of IYRS at the time that John served as Vice-Chairman. “He was a tremendous help at IYRS, putting his heart and soul into it,” Isdale said. “He was always there with a good piece of advice when the going was tough. He delivered and was a good friend too.”
“During the 13 years I have been at the helm as President, I would describe John Mecray as being the soul and consciousness of the school,” said Terry Nathan. “We have a very capable board of directors, but John was always looked to for input on important decisions. They wanted to know what he thought was right for the school.”
“My father pursued his passions of life with determination and perseverance,” said Stacia Mecray, his daughter, who lives in Jamestown. “He taught my brother (Marc) and me that your worth or success should not be measured by your talents, but how well you treat people along the way,” she said. “He had a quiet dignity and faced his illness with great courage, humor and grace. He was amazing.”
“He was a brilliant guy and did marvelous paintings,” said Arthur Riordan, who with his wife represented Mecray as agents and sold his paintings for decades. On his website, mecray.com, Mecray wrote that he “has been fortunate in his long time mentor and agent, Marguerite Riordan, noted art and antique dealer of Stonington, Connecticut. “His paintings are the best contemporary marine paintings in the U.S.,” Arthur Riordan said. “They are in the museums and homes of many excellent collections. We sold his paintings to people who appreciated the quality of his work. Ted Turner (founder of CNN) and Rudy Schaefer (heir to F&M Schaefer Brewing Co.) were among the buyers.
“He was a good friend to many, many people,” Mary Gillette, his loving wife said. “I’ve had to comfort his friends. He was a very quiet person, but when he spoke, people listened. He helped struggling artists with their work and their portfolios.”
Beginning in 1997, Mecray donated one of his limited edition prints to each of 45 Leukemia Cup regattas that have been held throughout the country as fundraisers. “He was a big donor to the Leukemia Lymphoma Society,” Gillette said. “His brother died 17 years ago from lymphoma.”
“He was a fantastic talent,” according to John Edick, brother-in-law and owner of local Blackstone Caterers. “When he was preparing to paint, he researched everything about the subject of the painting, including which way the wind was blowing that day and other historical data.
John was raised in Cape May, New Jersey, and began his career as an illustrator of books in Philadelphia. Inspired by yacht delivery trips to the Virgin Islands in the 1970s, he gave up his illustration career to devote his time to marine painting. He moved to Newport in 1976. Early on during that time, Mecray and a small group of friends met in his Thames Street studio on several occasions to discuss the possibility of starting a Museum of Yachting, which opened at Fort Adams State Park in 1979.
He convinced Tom Benson to take on the position of museum executive director in March 1980, which effectively brought the museum to life, Mecray wrote. That year, the museum held its first annual Classic Yacht Regatta, which is still a popular Labor Day weekend event for classic yachts.
Resigning his trustee position with the museum in 1992, Mecray joined with Elizabeth Meyer in founding the International Yacht Restoration School, which became IYRS School of Technology & Trades more recently. Shortly after its founding in 1993, IYRS acquired an historic waterfront site vacated by the Newport Electric Company, and within nine months one of its two buildings was made ready for IYRS’ initial program in Boatbuilding & Restoration. Since then, the school has gained recognition and respect worldwide as a maker builder school with an exceptional learning system for people passionate by thinking through their hands and through the use of technology..
Mecray was involved in negotiations in 2007 that successfully merged the museum into the school and was an important participant in finding a private funder for the 133’ schooner yacht Coronet. He also painted three works of Coronet. While John and Elizabeth had a vision for Coronet to be restored by IYRS students, John was quoted in a pivotal trustee meeting as saying “that there should be nothing more important than IYRS the school, including Coronet’s restoration.”
Nathan has said “He came to the school often and engaged with everyone. He was so deeply immersed here and everybody loved him. He was the soul and consciousness of IYRS.”