Janice S. Brightwell, whose family was responsible for keeping a large portion of Napeague in a pristine state, died on May 30 at Twomey Hospital in Sumter, S.C.. She was 96.
Mrs. Brightwell had been living with her daughter at her daughter’s farm in Rembert, S.C., for the past several years. She was born on Jan. 1, 1915, in Port Monmouth, N.J., the fourth child of J. Howard and Blanche O. Smith. She spent her early years in Port Monmouth, where her father had purchased a small fish-meal processing plant that he ran with his brother and, later, their sons and daughters. The business grew.
In 1932, the Smith family bought an existing factory on Gardiner’s Bay known as Promised Land. At its height in the 1960s, the Smith Meal business owned 10 factories in the U.S. and 1 each in Canada, Peru, and Chile.
Norman Edwards Sr. of Amagansett was a bunker fisherman who supplied the company with menhaden (bunker), an industrial species processed for oil and meal. In 1972, Captain Edwards set the all-time seasonal record for menhaden landings from the 200-foot Tidelands purse seiner, according to David Clarke, one of Mrs. Brightwell’s sons. The family sold the business in 1973. The Smiths were among the founding families of Smithtown.
Mrs. Brightwell’s grandfather was captain of the schooner Silver Star, which had the mail run between New York and Buenes Aires. The schooner still holds the record of 19 days 11 hours under sail between the two ports.
The Smith family had substantial real estate holdings along the East Coast. As part of the sale of their business, Janice Brightwell and her brothers and sister transferred some of their properties into the public domain so they would remain in their natural state. One tract included about two miles of ocean beach frontage on Napeague. The property ran straight through to Gardiner’s Bay. It included the Promised Land site as well as frontage on the bay and Napeague Harbor including Hicks Island. The entire stretch is now known as Napeague State Park.
The Brigantine National Wildlife Refuge, centrally located in the path of migratory birds, now comprises 9,000 acres of salt marsh and islands that once belonged to the Smith family.
Janice Brightwell had five children with her first husband, Lawrence I. Clarke. The marriage ended in divorce in 1972. She later met and married Henry Brightwell. The couple spent winters in New Haven, Conn., and summers in East Hampton.
She was a fixture in East Hampton with a variety of interests. She was a gardener and served as president of the East Hampton Garden Club and was a contributing member of the Ladies Village Improvement Society. She and her husband, who died in 2005, were members of the Devon Yacht Club and the Maidstone Club. In earlier years, Mrs. Brightwell was a competitive tennis player in both doubles and singles. She became a serious equestrian when her daughter went to boarding school and left her horse at home. She also enjoyed the links.
While in Connecticut, Mrs. Brightwell continued her passion for gardening as a member of the New Haven Garden Club, and she served as a docent of the Peabody Musem. She and her husband were active in events at Yale University and were members of the New Haven Symphony and the Long Wharf Theater, as well as the New Haven Lawn Club. They loved to travel. Their last trip was made on the QE2’s final Atlantic crossing.
In addition to her daughter, Patricia Topping of Sagaponack, she is survived by her sons, David Clarke of Amagansett, Stephen Clarke of Greenport, Lawrence Clarke of Barnard, Vt., and daughter, Janice Clarke of Uniontown, Pa. She leaves eight grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
Memorial contributions were suggested for the Garden Club of East Hampton, P.O. Box 879, East Hampton 11937 or the Ladies Village Improvement Society, 95 Main Street, East Hampton.