BY ALBERT AMATEAU | John W. Doswell, a founding chairperson of Friends of Hudson River Park, executive director of the Working Harbor Committee and member of the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, died Jan. 2. He was 71.
Diagnosed with cancer a year ago, he was responding well to treatment until he was admitted to the hospital shortly before his death, according to his wife, Jean Preece.
Captain John Doswell (he held a U.S. Coast Guard master’s license for vessels, under power or sail, of up to 100 tons) was a prime mover of waterfront events for three decades. He was a member of the North River Historic Ship Society and Save Our Ships New York, among other maritime organizations. As director of the Working Harbor Committee, he organized annual tugboat races and coordinated international visits of historic ships. For the 2012 OpSail event, he found berthing for dozens of vessels from around the world.
A Hell’s Kitchen community activist, John Doswell was an early member of Friends of Pier 84, a neighborhood group that successfully advocated for free public use of the pier off W. 44th St. For several years he was a member of Community Board 4, whose West Side district includes the Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen waterfronts.
Madelyn Wils, president and C.E.O. of the Hudson River Park Trust, the city/state agency building the riverfront park, paid tribute to his contributions to waterfront redevelopment.
“Captain John Doswell leaves an inimitable legacy of devotion to the New York City waterfront community he so loved and served during his rich and accomplished lifetime,” Wils said in a prepared eulogy. “A U.S. Navy veteran in the Vietnam War, John’s life was fully committed to the preservation and innovation of our working waterfront and environment. All of us at Hudson River Park Trust and Friends of Hudson River Park knew him as a tireless advocate. His vast maritime knowledge and skill in all things nautical made him a stalwart champion for numerous programs and educational activities. He brought unmatched calm, reason and a sense of fairness to every mission he undertook. His legacy will live on for generations.”
The Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance also paid tribute to John Doswell’s accomplishments, noting that he had crossed the Atlantic in a sailboat. He also occasionally piloted the restored 600-ton lighthouse tender Frying Pan, as well as the historic schooner Lettie G. Howard.
“As a member of the Maritime Infrastructure and Permitting Panel, Captain Doswell contributed to Vision 2020, New York City’s 10-year waterfront plan,” the Alliance said. He also helped organize the Alliance’s City of Water Day, Hudson River Park Day, the Liberty Cup Hawaiian Outrigger Canoe Race, the Floating the Apple America Star Race and the Flotilla to Reclaim Governors Island event.
John Doswell was one of the original group of friends who bought the decommissioned New York City fireboat John J. Harvey in 1999 and restored her to working condition. He was among the crew that brought the old fireboat to the World Trade Center site on Sept. 11, 2001, ferried residents away from the disaster and returned to pump water into the fire.
And it was on the John J. Harvey that Doswell and Preece were married last July after living together for 40 years. They had met in 1961 in junior college in St. Petersburg, Florida. She was a dancer (as a Rockette at Radio City Music Hall and with roles in several Broadway musicals) and he became a producer of corporate events. Married to different partners, they were each divorced and began life together, for a while on a boat in the W. 79th St. boat basin. They got married on the advice of their accountant, and their waterfront friends took over the arrangements.
John Doswell was born in St. Petersburg to Betsy Weeks and Claude Douglas Doswell. He was the oldest of five brothers, Warren, Willard, Douglas and Joe, who all survive, in addition to his wife and their daughter, Jhoneen.