The Vineyard lost a special friend when Archer Harman Jr. died suddenly June 17 at 81. Headmaster of St. George's School in Newport, R.I., from 1961 to 1972, as well as four other private secondary schools, Mr. Harman was a commanding and influential presence in education for decades. But he was just as revered in recent years as a wise counselor and enthusiastic supporter of Vineyard students, following his formal retirement in the late 1980s to his home on Edgartown harbor.

A familiar sight as he biked to retrieve mail at the Triangle post office, he was friend to many, quick to stop and inquire as to the latest goings-on. He was a fixture at Martha's Vineyard high school football, hockey and lacrosse games, home and away. Up to the end, he was physically and mentally robust, a popular and constructive member of the community. He was an endearing, benign overseer for years of noisy activity among children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews and friends on the family waterfront property.

Fittingly, Archer was returning from an off-Island gathering of headmasters when he collapsed after embarking from the ferry in Vineyard Haven and died instantly, apparently of a heart attack. He was movingly remembered by Edgartown School principal Ed Jerome at the school's graduation ceremony the following day. The hundreds of condolences sent to the family echo one refrain: He was a good man. Indeed, Archer's appeal transcended mere biographical accomplishments, of which there were many. He is best remembered as a kind and comforting man, a man of humor and humility, of strength and curiosity, truly interested in others, quick to welcome, to put at ease.

Born in 1923, Archer was the son of Lillien (Cox) and Archer Harman Sr. He was educated at St. Paul's School in Concord, N.H., where his father was a master. He was a member of the Class of 1945 at Yale, where he joined Skull and Bones and was captain of the hockey team. During World War II, he served as lieutenant on a destroyer in the Pacific, under the command of Admiral William Bull Halsey. He received a master's degree in education from Harvard and taught at St. Paul's and Westminster School before taking the headmastership of The Peck School in Morristown, N.J., in the mid-1950s. At St. George's in the early 1960s, he risked his job by insisting on opening the school to minority students.

After St. George's, Mr. Harman launched a second career as an interim headmaster, taking short stints at several schools in need, including McDuffie School, Sewickley Academy, Potomac School and Princeton Day School. He was a trustee of Thayer Academy in Braintree and St. Mark's School in Southboro, and on the board of A Better Chance, which supports the development of leaders among young people of color, and Freedom From Chemical Dependency.

Mr. Harman first came to the Vineyard in the 1930s, when his parents rented a house on Starbuck's Neck in Edgartown. The Harmans subsequently purchased a home on Tower Hill overlooking Edgartown harbor. It was from this Tower Hill perch in 1938 that he first spied a bright teenage neighbor, Mari Brainerd, whose parents' property abutted the Harmans. The couple wed in 1944 and were virtually inseparable for the next sixty years. (As a longtime friend observed in a letter the family received last week, "It will always be Mari and Archer.") Mari played an integral and active role in Archer's success as an educator, taking under her wing scores of students, faculty and faculty spouses wherever they went.

Archer maintained a passion for sports throughout his life. He built a tennis court on his Edgartown property and enjoyed his final match over the recent Memorial Day weekend, when the family gathered to celebrate his 81st birthday. Likewise, he continued to cross-country ski into his eighties. Newsweek magazine noted last winter in an article on Howard Dean (Mr. Harman's student at St. George's) that the old headmaster arrived for an interview from skiing in 10-degree weather.

A member of the Cruising Club of America, Archer spent several weeks every summer cruising the waters of New England with Mari and friends aboard their yacht Nanuk. When not under sail, he devoted countless hours to washing, polishing and tinkering with his beloved sloop. If one borrowed Nanuk for an afternoon sail out by Cape Pogue, it was always a good idea to return the boat ship-shape.

In addition to Mari, Mr. Harman is survived by daughter Jane of Needham and Edgartown; sons Archer III of Tiverton, R.I., and Edgartown, David B. of Brooklyn and Edgartown, and John A. of Brookline and Edgartown; sisters Adele Waggaman of Washington D.C., and Edgartown and Elizabeth Brainard of Marion and Chester, Nova Scotia; six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

The family gathered Monday, June 21, at the old Edgartown cemetery - 100 yards from Archer's home - for a private service of interment led by the Rev. Bob Edmunds. One relative stated, "He was blessed with remarkable gifts and absolutely no airs - a towering figure in education, revered and honored athlete and sportsman, compassionate friend, wonderful company, patriarch and comforting anchor to all gathered here and countless others young and old. He made us proud to call him husband, father, brother, Paps, uncle, mentor, father-figure, not for how he so easily walked with the high and mighty, but for how he could enchant a group of first-graders, how he made us feel at ease, how he was always there for so many."

A memorial service is scheduled to take place at the St. George's Chapel in Middletown, R.I., Sept. 18. Donations in Archer's memory can be made to the Martha's Vineyard Hospital or the Archer Harman Scholarship Fund at St. George's.