Robert I. Patrick, the founder of the surplus and salvage story Marine Specialties, died in Provincetown on Dec. 21, 2021 after a long illness. He was 93.
Bob was born on May 5, 1928, the son of Manuel “Pat” and Angie M. (Swett) Patrick. His mother, a Provincetown schoolteacher, died when he was two years old. He was raised by his father and his paternal grandmother.
Bob grew up by the sea and developed a creative and resilient approach to life. He learned to sail at an early age and spent long hours beachcombing with his father. During World War II, they would often salvage materials, such as bales of raw rubber, from ships that had been torpedoed by German U-boats. He also assisted at the Central House (which became the Sea Horse Inn in the 1950s and later the Crown & Anchor) when it was used as a temporary morgue for victims of those attacks.
With his father and John Van Arsdale, the founder of Provincetown-Boston Airlines, he helped build a makeshift dune buggy by mounting airplane tires on a Model A Ford to drive on the beach. They trolled for lobsters by attaching a net between the Model A and a small fishing boat.
At Provincetown High School, Bob was an excellent student, winning a scholarship to Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., where he planned to play football. But his experiences related to the war led him to leave school before graduation and join the U.S. Navy. He worked as an orderly at the Charlestown Naval Hospital and was in training to be a medic in the Marine Corps-led invasion of Japan when the war ended.
After the war, he went to Boston, where, at 18, Bob became a kitchen manager at the Union Oyster House while he trained to be a chef at what became the Culinary Institute of America. He returned to Provincetown in the 1950s and worked at his father’s Flagship Restaurant, which he had helped to build using salvaged materials.
Later in that decade he met his wife, Elizabeth “Ghee” Patrick, at the A-House. She had come to Provincetown to study art, but once they were married, she joined Bob in all his enterprises, beginning with his stint as a commercial fisherman. His son, Patrick Patrick, said that, at first, Robert would swim out to the dinghy he used to get to his fishing boat; his dog would follow with an oar in its mouth. When winter arrived, he carried on with that practice until it got too cold for the dog, Patrick added.
In 1961, Bob and Ghee started Marine Specialties, selling army-navy surplus and ships’ salvage. They began small, as a mail-order business; Ghee designed the illustrated catalog. The storefront business followed. Because military surplus had to be purchased in large quantities that were too much for a single store, they began to sell to other stores, expanding into an international wholesale business, Marspec Incorporated Marine Specialties, in the early 1970s.
That expansion required international travel. Joined by Ghee and his children, Patrick and Oona, Bob traveled to Europe, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China.
Bob’s love of sailing and interest in his children’s education coalesced after the birth of his daughter. He bought a 36-foot double-ended-hull Carol Ketch sailboat designed by John Hanna. From Oona’s infancy until she started high school, the family spent six months each year sailing and living on the boat on the Intracoastal Waterway, in Islamorada, Fla., and in Miami. He supervised Pat’s and Oona’s education, working by mail with materials from a school in Yarmouth and on-site with a school in Key West. Oona recalls an assignment to keep the ship’s log and send it to Yarmouth for evaluation.
Oona, now an editor for Bloomsbury publishing in New York, said her father “regretted not having gone to college and didn’t want us to miss that opportunity.
“My dad was a survivor,” Oona added, “who powered through when bad things happened.” She recalled hard times in 1977 when Marine Specialties burned in an unsolved arson with all contents of the building lost, and in 1998 when the shop burned again in the huge Whaler’s Wharf fire. “He was very tough,” said Oona.
He was also careful with money. He served as chair of the Provincetown Finance Committee in the 1970s and ’80s and as treasurer of the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum.
Bob donated property to help create the Shank Painter Pond Wildlife Sanctuary in 2001. For as long as he was able, he walked through town nearly every day, stopping to check in with friends and fellow business owners.
Bob is survived by his wife, Ghee; his children, Pat of Provincetown and Oona of Brooklyn, N.Y.; his daughter-in-law, Francesca; and his grandchildren, Nicolas, Eli, Avery, and Eoin.
Calling hours were on Jan. 3 at the Gately Funeral Home in Provincetown and a funeral service was held on Jan. 4 at the Provincetown United Methodist Church. Burial, with military honors, followed in the Provincetown Cemetery.
To leave a message of condolence for the family, visit the guest book at gatelyfuneralservice.com.