Arthur W. Young Jr., 76, longtime Edgartown innkeeper and restaurateur, died unexpectedly on Wednesday at his Katama home. He had been the husband, for 53 years, of Nancy Prada (Convery) Young.
For three decades, Mr. Young was general manager of the imposing Harborside Inn on South Water street, and for a few years, with his wife and brother in law, Leo P. Convery, was also its owner.
It was Mrs. Young's grandfather, Antone Prada Jr., who, in 1914, bought an old South Water street boarding house and transformed it into the inn. Later, her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Leo J. Convery, enlarged it by acquiring four whaling captains' houses on South Water street. When Mr. Young, who had been studying at the Cornell School of Hotel Administration in Ithaca, N.Y., came to the Vineyard from Boston in 1948, Mr. Convery hired the young man as general assistant. Two years later, the general assistant married the owners' daughter at an impressive wedding that ended when the bride and bridegroom, in a seaplane, were flown from the Harborside dock to their Provincetown honeymoon by Stephen C. Gentle. It was a colorful beginning to an Edgartown life by a very colorful man.
Arthur William Young Jr. was born in Boston June 3, 1927, the son of Arthur William Young and Isobel Todd (Doig) Young. He attended Roxbury and Boston Latin schools and was graduated from Forest Hills High School in New York and the Columbia School of Business. He also attended the Cornell School of Hotel Administration. In the World War II V-5 Naval Aviation program, he earned his pilot's license. For some years, as a relief from hotel duties, he flew small planes out of the Katama Airport for Mr. Gentle.
During his years with the inn, Arthur Young was credited with introducing many new ideas - the most important of which was changing from the American plan, which included the price of all meals in the daily hotel rate, to the European plan, in which one paid separately for meals. This change went into effect in the early 1960s when daily American plan rates had reached a price he realized many of his guests could not afford to pay. The owner, at various times, of a Herreshoff, a Boston Whaler and a 28-foot Triton, and once a member of the house committee of the Edgartown Yacht Club, Mr. Young also updated the collection of boats for rent at the inn. He also installed at the Harborside the first nonprivate outdoor swimming pool in town.
Talkative, ribald and a bon vivant, Arthur Young thrived in the innkeeping business. With his red hair and red handlebar moustache, a rotund figure and a penchant for the theatrical, neither inn guests nor employees were ever likely to lose track of him when he was on the premises.
Harborside guests in its heyday included Hollywood producer Darryl F. Zanuck and writers Thornton Wilder and Helen Gurley Brown. When Frank Sinatra sailed into Edgartown harbor with his yacht in the 1960s, he turned to Mr. Young and his Harborside staff to provide the parties for the passengers on his boat. Actress Colette Colbert and actor Sammy Davis Jr. were believed to be among them. Mr. Young relished working with and becoming friends with notable guests. Photography was one of his hobbies and he was especially pleased to be able to get advice on his own picture-taking from Life magazine master photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt, who stayed at the Harborside in his early Vineyard years before switching his allegiance to the more remote Menemsha Inn. Mr. Young was also among photographer Peter Simon's first pupils at the Nathan Mayhew Seminars.
Watercolor painting was another hobby and, appreciative of art as he was, he began, early in the painting career of his West Tisbury friend, Stanley Murphy, to collect his works. With nine Murphy paintings (including a portrait Mr. Murphy did of him), Mr. Young had one of the largest collections of Murphy paintings on the Island.
Mr. Young was widely respected among his colleagues for his innkeeping abilities. He was a member of the board of directors of the Massachusetts Hotel and Motel Association and was among those invited to Washington by President Carter to attend a White House conference on small business. He was chairman of a task force from Massachusetts that pointed out at the conference the hardships federal regulations were causing small businesses. Mr. Young also served as president of the New England Innkeepers Association and, at various times, was a director of both the Edgartown Board of Trade and the Martha's Vineyard Chamber of Commerce. In 1975, he was a member of the Edgartown planning board and relished the ceremonial position he held in the town as measurer of wood and bark and weigher of coal.
Civic-minded as well, he was president for some dozen years of the Edgartown Boys' (now Martha's Vineyard Boys' and Girls') Club and had ingenious money-raising schemes for it. One was to bring the Mills Brothers Circus to the Island in 1973. That, as reported in the publication of the Automobile Legal Association, co-sponsor with the Harborside of the event, was "the biggest over-water movement of animals since Noah coaxed a balky donkey up the gangplank." Elephants and camels and circus carts boarded chartered ferries to come to the Island. A birthday party, complete with a cake for one of the elephants (who had made friends by allowing herself to be ridden by local children) was a highlight of the event. In 1965, Mr. Young saw to it that the circus came again.
Notorious as a teller of racy stories and off-color jokes, he could also tell more family-oriented tales, and one heart-warming one was of the $250 donation the boys' and girls' club got by default.
One day in 1982, Mr. Young received a letter from an abject woman who explained that a decade earlier she and her husband had stayed at the Harborside, but they were suffering from hard times and the check had bounced. Life was better for them at last, she wrote to Mr. Young, and she wanted to send the inn the $250 she owed. In accepting her apology, Mr. Young graciously wrote back:
"In dealing with people as we do, there are times when one gets very discouraged. Basic honesty is frequently compromised and generally for selfish reasons. You are an example for all of us. Your $250 will go to the boys' and girls' club with the story behind it and maybe, just maybe, you will have planted a good seed."
Mr. Young was, for some years, a member of the board of Community Services and, along with its then executive director, Georgia Ireland, developed the Possible Dreams Auction that, since its beginnings in 1979 at the Harborside, has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Community Services coffers.
He was also a member of the Island NAACP and some townspeople were dismayed when he invited the National Guardsmen, a black businessmen's association, to hold the first northern convention at the Harborside in the 1960s.
In 1993, he and the Edgartown historic district commission were at odds over the future of the 1840s Wilson House across from the inn which Mr. Young wished to demolish because it was dilapidated and he needed more inn parking and the commission wanted preserved. (He got his parking lot.) He did, however, always feel a special responsibility to preserve the towering Chinese pagoda tree - the largest on the continent - outside the hotel that had been brought from China in a flowerpot by Capt. Thomas Milton in 1837. He even saw to it that a seedling from the tree was planted in front of the Edgartown Public Library when an extension was built.
In 1976, his in laws, the senior Converys, still the inn's owners though he was its general manager, were killed in an off-Island automobile accident. Ownership of the inn then went to the Youngs and Leo P. Convery for a time. But Mr. Convery elected to relinquish his interest in the inn and take over another enterprise of his parents, Harborside Realty. Mr. Young worked with him briefly, but by then he was becoming increasingly interested in the restaurant business. He was an accomplished chef (Chinese, French and Italian cooking were his specialties) who sometimes was invited to attend functions of the exclusive Les Amis d'Escoffier. He even named a family St. Bernard Escoffier. When Mr. Young took him to dog-training school, the dog and his then rotund and ever-theatrical master won the Biggest Performance by the Biggest Combination Award.
To be a companion for Escoffier, he bought a Brittany spaniel he named Ami, both because it was to be a friend to the larger dog and so it, too, would bear part of the Amis d'Escoffier name. There was always something tongue-in-cheek when family pets were named. The tiny Yorkshire terrier his wife had was called MacDoig (son of Doig in Celtic) after Mr. Young's mother, Isobel Doig. A Newfoundland he had was not Attila the Hun, but Attila the Honey. Mr. Young's fondness for animals included cats, too, and there were once 17 Siamese cats in the Young household, one of which - Captain Gus - would join the family in swims at the beach.
The Youngs lived, in the early years of their marriage, in what had been the old North School on Mill street. It later was the Carol Club where young girls of town could play the piano, sing songs and carols (hence the name) and otherwise entertain themselves. Still later it became the Carol Apartments, one of Nancy Young's parents' many commercial enterprises and which she managed for them. Later, the Youngs built their own Cape Cod house next door. Both are now part of the Edgartown Commons complex.
In 1964, Mr. Young's interest in the food and beverage aspect of the inn business reached its culmination when he and Leo P. Convery moved what had been the inn's restaurant, The Navigator Room, to the foot of Main street. There, Leo J. Convery had had the Boathouse Bar. Mr. Young and his brother in law demolished that one-story building and replaced it with the existing two-story Navigator Room and Boathouse Bar. After 1986, when the decision was made to turn the Harborside into a time-share operation, the restaurant and bar became Mr. Young's primary interest.
Mornings, he would drive down to the restaurant in his cream-colored 1967 E-type Jaguar convertible, a cigar in his mouth and the gold loop earring his wife had given him for their 20th wedding anniversary glinting in the morning sunlight. He would natter a little with friends like John Klingensmith, whom he had helped to start Jon's Taxi Company many years before. Then he would go into the restaurant to talk business.
For some years, he and his wife spent their winters on Long Key in the Bahamas, where he fly-fished. (On the Vineyard, he had scalloped briefly with his wife's grandfather and fished occasionally, but he particularly enjoyed goose and duck hunting on Edgartown Great Pond with his good friend, Dr. Robert W. Nevin.) But there came a time when A.Y., as the family sometimes called him, had fly-fished enough to satisfy his enthusiasm for the sport and was tiring of the Bahamas so he and his wife chose Florence, Italy, as a winter vacation home. It was in Florence, in 1995, that he suffered a stroke that left him partially paralyzed and largely confined to a wheelchair.
But even that did not diminish Arthur Young's energy. He volunteered to work for the Dukes County Historical Society, making an index of the names that appear in issues of the Dukes County Intelligencer. Unable because of his stroke to drive a car, he took to a four-wheeled bright red electric scooter he would ride into town from Katama - his fair skin protected from the sun by a floppy Tilley hat.
After the stroke, the Youngs' winters were spent in Jupiter and Tequesta, Fla. Their winter residence by then was in the former Otis L. Guernsey house on Katama, which they had bought in 1965.
Mr. Young was a member of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church and, because of his size and the white beard that, in time, replaced his red one, he played Santa Claus each Christmas as long as he was able. Seeing him off-season, without his red suit, children would ask what he was doing outside the North Pole and he would matter-of-factly respond that even Santa had to go on vacation sometimes.
He was a proud, lifelong Republican, and in all areas of life never hesitated to let his strong opinions be known. He was bombastic and quick to anger and frequently made enemies. At the same time, he is warmly remembered by his friends for his generosity and unobtrusive thoughtfulness.
His theatrical nature came to the fore when he joined the Vineyarders playing in the film Jaws in 1975. With his full beard, he made an impressive figure in the scene in the selectmen's office when townspeople were trying to decide what to do about the shark menace.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Young is survived by his sister, Dorothy (Mrs. Stanley E.) Abelson of Philadelphia and Edgartown; his children, Arthur W. Young 3rd of Hingham; Deborah (Mrs. Noel) Coletti of Haverhill; Anthony Lee Young of Manassas Park, Va.; David Prada Young of Haverhill, and Constance (Mrs. Hollyday) Compton of Norwell, and eight grandchildren.
A memorial service will he held at the Navigator Restaurant at 2 p.m. on August 17. Donations in his memory may be made to the Martha's Vineyard Boys' and Girls' Club or to Martha's Vineyard Community Services Inc.