Whenever something happens with the royal house of Windsor, all of England turns into a small town.
What I love most about covering our small towns is exactly the spirit that is fueling the bittersweet celebration of a life well lived in every corner of the UK right now: the feeling of knowing someone through consistency, reliability and a very good duty. to the community
Town historian Gene Horton was a member of local royalty to those who knew him and those who knew of him, living a life that served as a guardian of the place for a long, reliable and continuing history.
I first heard of Gene Horton with our good friend, realtor Bryn Elliott, when we were looking for a house in Sayville/Bayport/Blue Point during the beautiful spring of 2013.
Searching for a home in south Montauk after the fury of Superstorm Sandy the previous fall, the brilliance of life on the coast has been somewhat diminished by Mother Nature’s new cruelty.
But our anxiety eased when Bryn showed us a house on Blue Point Avenue that had been spared Sandy’s wrath and had been on Gene’s history tour.
Bryn told us how Gene told how this cheery little structure had weathered some of the most devastating storms of the century.
He spoke of Gene as the consummate and shrewd teacher, but also as a man who inspired wonder and more curiosity about the collective past of peoples.
When I first met Gene at a Bayport Blue Point Chamber meeting a year later, after we’d settled into our dream cottage (plaque lovingly with an English country-inspired sign that read “Squirrel Cottage” Gene loved it), lived up to the hype. ivy league professor image she had of him in his dapper bow tie and perfectly pressed pants.
The paper I was writing for at the time had a dear and colorful editor, Tom Reid (whom I affectionately called Rupert after the half-tycoon, Rupert Murdoch), who introduced us.
I was welcomed by Gene, a veteran and acclaimed writer for the South Shore Gazettes, a new, young voice at the newspaper.
When I expressed my apprehension about “being an outsider,” he graciously offered, “Let the true stories of Sayville and BBP guide you and you’ll always be a part of town.”
And that was Gene Horton, paradoxically intellectual and yet fatherly to others.
The first article I worked on with Gene was about Meadowcroft.
In short, he knew the mansion as a former Roosevelt estate, but not much else.
Gene invited me to his home, a perfectly preserved historical treasure that housed an impressive library with all the warmth of a grandfather’s smile.
I told him I wanted to make the Roosevelts more accessible to a contemporary audience and he entertained me for two hours with the antics of the young Roosevelts until they transformed into the Edwardian Kardashians.
That was the magic of Gene’s tireless work and playful parallels: he kept the beauty of the story’s mythical appeal, but brought the allure of the humanity of the central figures, just as Queen Elizabeth did with the royal family in a contemporary world that was finally asking for atonement for the sins of colonialism.
Upon learning of his passing in the fall of 2019, Sayville and BBP were unhinged with grief on social media.
Each post garnered hundreds of not just likes, but “love” and “sad face” reactions to images of the ever-stylish Mr. Horton at city events.
The word that came up the most to describe Gene was “gentleman” and it couldn’t be more apt for the great man who led his life as discoverer, storyteller and icon of the South Coast’s cherished history.
Alas, whether it’s Queen Elizabeth II, Gene Horton, or a relative, don’t grieve over the passing, but celebrate the legacy.