Clayton Albert Friis of West Tisbury died July 7. He was 95, and was known to many Islanders from his years as captain of the Menemsha Bike Ferry. He also worked on the Chappaquiddick Ferry and Vineyard Haven Harbor tender.

Born in 1926 as a son of Scandinavian immigrants, Clayton grew up in Brockton during the Great Depression. He enlisted in the Navy in 1944 and was sent to Alma College to train to be an officer, receiving the gift of a college education. He served as ensign first class in the north Atlantic aboard the aircraft carrier USS Leyte.

With the aid of the GI Bill, he fulfilled his and his parents’ dream of higher education, obtaining a master’s degree in psychology from Tufts University, a master’s in philosophy from New York University and a master’s and PhD in education from Boston University.

Witnessing the inequalities and injustices visited on the working class and immigrant community of his childhood inspired Clayton to dedicate his life to public education. After the war, he served as a director of Duxbury Stockade and Camp Lapham, summer camps for underserved children from the Boston metro areas. He taught in elementary schools in the Weston and Newton school districts, then served as high school principal in Sheffield and Williamstown.

He went on to be assistant superintendent of the Harrison and New Rochelle public school districts in the New York metro area. In New Rochelle he was part of the first successful efforts to fully desegregate a northern urban school district. He was deeply dedicated to civil and human rights and lived his values in his work and global friendships. He served as superintendent of the East Williston School district on Long Island, named the best school district in the U.S. during his tenure. He retired as superintendent of the Nyack, N.Y. school district.

Although he had great professional success, he was ever the salt of the earth, rugged kid from Brockton. His first job was in fifth grade, when his classmates paid him to protect them from bullies on the way to school. In 1969, he famously ran into New Rochelle high school while it was on fire and rescued the student records before the building collapsed. His heroic effort made it possible for the school’s 3,000-plus students to continue their education in community spaces throughout the city while a new high school was built.

A Renaissance man, Clayton was an avid violinist and violist. He played in orchestras and string quartets throughout his life, joined by cellist Lynn Jelliffe Friis, his wife of 65 years, Together, they sang with the Handel and Haydn Society in Boston and treasured lifelong friendships with chamber musicians in New York and on the Vineyard. He told stories of walking 25 miles from Brockton to Boston with his father to see the Boston Symphony. He always memorized his seat number in case he lost his ticket on the way. In his later years, he was a member of the Vineyard Sinfonietta.

After retirement from education, he filled his life with epic adventures and world travels, including multiple transatlantic voyages on his Tahiti ketch, the Eliza III. It sank in the hurricane of 1991, during which he was rescued 800 miles off of Bermuda by a Polish freighter. He established a yacht delivery business and sailed out of Vineyard Haven harbor to the Caribbean, the Azores, the Faroe Islands, Norway, Chile and Brazil. In the winter, backpack in tow, he explored Mexico, Europe and China. He lived in Mexico for many winters, establishing lifelong friendships there. His adventurer’s soul never ebbed, and when he could no longer travel, he regaled anyone and everyone who would listen with his stories.

He spoke Spanish and German, wrote and published poetry, loved young people and children, was the last person to leave any dance floor and had a song for every occasion. He had an incredible warmth and jolly, irreverent sense of humor that made him beloved by his grandchildren, nieces and nephews. He was the life of every party.

He was predeceased by his beloved wife, Lynn Jelliffe. He is survived by his children, Suzanne Friis Gagliardi and her husband Ron of Holmdel, N.J., Carl Friis of Vail, Colo., Rachel Friis Stettler and her husband David of Portland, Me., Tanya Friis and her husband Michael of Pahrump, Nev., four grandchildren and a great-grandson.