After a two-year battle with cancer, John Bartlett Rice died peacefully at his Truro home on July 27, 2023, surrounded by his family. In the months preceding his death, he had been renovating a house on a newly purchased property in Vermont. “He needed a project at all times,” said his wife, Rella. John was 73.
He was born on Oct. 19, 1949 in Manchester, Conn., the second of Burton A. Rice’s and Maxine C. Rice’s four children. When he was a boy, his parents ran a pancake house in Truro during the summer. In 1964, when they moved permanently to Truro, it became the Whitman House restaurant.
John graduated from Provincetown High School in 1968 and, according to his high school yearbook, his ambition was “to go to cooking school and become a great chef.” But after one year in culinary school in New York, he embraced his deeper love of working outdoors with wood.
He determined to learn the construction business. According to Rella, John approached a local contractor and said, “I will work for you for two weeks free if you teach me what you know.” The contractor was “amazed at how quickly John learned,” Rella added.
John founded his own contracting business, and he was known, Rella said, “for getting the job done and getting it done quickly.” By the 1980s, John had a crew of 30 working for him, and they had five or six projects going on at the same time.
Because he often had to delay projects waiting for subcontractors to do the foundation and septic work, John learned how to do both. “He did everything,” Rella said, “to get the job done quickly and correctly.” He made extensive repairs in Provincetown after Hurricane Bob in 1991.
After 45 years, John left his construction business in 2009 and retired to a 300-acre farm in Chelsea, Vt. where he raised Chincoteague ponies, Angus cattle, and sheep. His chickens followed him like the Pied Piper. “He just enjoyed having animals” and had since childhood, Rella said.
He had a special relationship with a wild grouse that met him every morning for 10 years and allowed John to pick him up. John loved his farm, and he never stopped mowing, picking up sticks, and weed whacking. His farm was so tidy that neighbors said he had a golf course with cows.
He also loved furniture making. A master carpenter, he used his skills during the long Vermont winters to harvest downed trees, plane and dry the wood, and create beautiful tables, bureaus, and headboards. He gave most of the furniture he made to his friends and neighbors.
Fast cars and motorcycles were his biggest passions. When he was a teenager, he read hot rod magazines and dreamed about fast cars. As a successful contractor, he had the resources to collect cars, which he did for 40 years. He was partial to American muscle cars and Harley-Davidson, Triumph, and Bonneville motorcycles. Of his nearly 20 vehicles, he was especially proud of his 1967 Corvette.
He often participated in drag races at the New England Drag Way in Epping, N.H.
A great joy was spending time with his grandchildren, with whom he shared his love of speed. Being pulled on tubes and sleds attached to a snowmobile, tractor rides, buggy rides, and classic car rides are special memories. According to John’s family, he was “a big kid at heart.”
John is survived by wife, Rella R. Rice of Truro, with whom he enjoyed an adventurous 23 years of marriage, and his sons, Jonathan and spouse Justine Rice and Frankie Rice and spouse Colin McKinnon, also of Truro. He also leaves brothers Robert and spouse Sally Rice of Truro and Michael and spouse Dale Rice of Wellfleet and sister Patricia Rice Willis of Brewster, along with several nieces and nephews.
John dearly loved his grandchildren, Lily and Eben, Jonathan and Justine’s children.
Donations in lieu of flowers can be made to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute at brighamandwomens.org.
There will be a celebration of John’s life on Oct. 7, 2023 at 8 Hatch Road, Truro from 2 to 6 p.m. All are welcome to share memories and stories.