Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Eight Bells

An old friend of mines uncle passed away this past Sunday. He was quite a sailor and had a long history with boats and boating. His collegue Greg Matzat, President, Sparkman & Stephens, wrote to Scuttlebutt about Mitch Gibbons-Neff and they ran it under the "Eight Bells" heading. Full obit below...

Mitchell C. Gibbons-Neff passed away Sunday, February 4, 2007 due to complications from lung cancer. Born on May 4, 1941, Mitch grew up on the family farm in Maryland and was introduced to sailing by his parents. He received a Bachelors Degree in Geology from Franklin & Marshall College and joined the U.S. Navy in 1963. He was an Engineering Officer aboard the U.S.S. SALUTE, a minesweeper, and the Officer in Charge of a Swift boat in Vietnam. When he returned home, Mitch went to Harvard Business School for an M.B.A. He then spent two years working in the Pacific Northwest as a project engineer for a heavy construction firm.

In 1971, Mitch went to work for Palmer Johnson as a salesman and in 1973 he co-founded Nautor, USA. In 1977, Mitch showed up at Sparkman & Stephens for an interview. As Mitch told the story, after meeting with the company's managing broker, Mitch was told the company would get back to him - Mitch asked if an empty desk outside the manager's office was being used by anyone and when told "no", said he would be there the next day to start. In 1985, Mitch became President of Sparkman & Stephens. Mitch was a member of the New York Yacht Club and served on the Club's Model Committee. He was also a member of the Noroton Yacht Club, the Cruising Club of America, and the Storm Trysail Club. Mitch was an active supporter of the Mystic Seaport Museum and the SEA Education Association.

Mitch's life was boats and family. He was a great seaman and shipmate. When sailing offshore with Mitch onboard you always knew that whatever happened, you would get back safely. A highlight of Mitch's sailing career was the 1972 transatlantic race from Bermuda to Bayona, Spain aboard his family's 40-ft boat, PRIM. Mitch was the navigator and PRIM won her class and came in second overall. Mitch competed in 20 Newport to Bermuda races, the first when he was 14 years old.

Mitch didn't have clients, he had friends. He enjoyed helping others with a passion for boats and his success was a result of his honesty and directness. He held nothing back when talking about boats. He made us all laugh with his quotes like: "Whatever happened to cotton sails", "You're not old enough to have a bow thruster" and when talking about S&S's brokerage and design businesses "the only thing scarier than a sailor with a gun is a broker with an architect's scale."

Mitch is survived by his two sons, TM and Paul, his father Morton, his brothers Morton, Peter and Henry and his many nephews and nieces. Mitch will be laid to rest at a private family service. A memorial service for friends is being organized and details will follow. Memorial contributions may be made to the SEA Education Association.

Mitch also used to say "Don't worry about me, the good guys go first." Mitch, you were a "good guy". We will miss you. -- Greg Matzat, President, Sparkman & Stephens

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