Billy Havens, Longtime Bayman, ‘Finest Kind’

July 10, 1952 - Sept. 28, 2017
Billy Havens, July 10, 1952 - Sept. 28, 2017

William E. Havens Jr., a 12th-generation bayman and almost lifelong Amagansett resident, died on Sept. 28 in Boca Raton, Fla., after a series of illnesses. He was 65.

Mr. Havens had recently moved to West Palm Beach, Fla., to be nearer his daughter, Rebecca Havens, who attends Florida Atlantic University.

Mr. Havens and other members of his family were featured in Peter Mat­thiessen’s book “Men’s Lives,” which chronicled the work of East Hampton’s baymen; one chapter was titled “Summer of 1983: The Havens Crew.” 

He was born on July 10, 1952, the son of William E. Havens and the former Anna Hollander, both of whom died before him. The Havens family traces its roots here to a William Havens, who arrived on Shelter Island in the 17th century. In the 1890s, a member of the Havens family settled in Springs. They moved to Amagansett before the Great Depression, and fished with the Posey Lester crews off the ocean beach.

The fisheries of Mr. Havens’s youth were diverse and productive. In “Men’s Lives,” Mr. Matthiessen wrote of the Havenses setting gill nets and cod trawls in the ocean while a grandfather, Henry Havens, watched with a spyglass from a scuttlehole in his house on Old Montauk Highway.

Like many of the Amagansett baymen, Mr. Havens was a haulseiner, mostly targeting striped bass before the fishery was banned by the state in 1986 over potential PCB contamination. That year, Mr. Havens told The New York Times, “Now I know how the Indians feel. The Indians were driven out, weren’t they? The same thing is happening to us.”

Arnold Leo, the secretary of the East Hampton Town Baymen’s Association, said that Mr. Havens had been a key figure in the group, serving as one of its 12 directors for a long period. 

Mr. Havens was committed to defending the way of life of East End fishermen, his family said, and he was featured in a video made in 1989 by the singer Billy Joel, “Downeaster Alexa.” In the video, Mr. Leo’s daughter, the actor Melissa Leo, played Mr. Havens’s wife.

Striped bass fishing eventually returned, though haulseining was, for the most part, outlawed, spelling the end of a more than 300-year-old tradition.

Because of Mr. Havens’s knowledge of the sea, he was introduced to Deborah Ross, who was gathering information for a movie about fishing on the East End, and they married. At one time they owned and operated Harry’s Hideaway restaurant and bar on Fort Pond Boulevard in Springs, where Mr. Havens had worked after quitting fishing.

He and Ms. Havens lived in California for several years, where he worked in a union job as a film industry grip. They returned here in the mid-1990s, and Mr. Havens went to work for the East Hampton Town Highway Department, digging clams for money on the side when he could. Ms. Havens died before him, as did a brother, Benjamin Havens.

In retirement, Mr. Havens continued to clam, fish, and scallop. He picked and preserved wild raspberries and blackberries. He would travel to see NASCAR races and car shows and to the Riverhead Raceway. He was a co-founder of Hometown Bonac Connected Friends on Facebook, where he posted images of sunrises and sunsets, as well as his accomplishments in the kitchen. 

His family and friends recalled him as having a contagious smile and laugh and as a kind soul and a solid friend — “finest kind,” as Bonackers like him say. 

In addition to his daughter, Mr. Havens is survived by his sisters Marion Havens of Hicksville, Lillian Havens of Manorville, and Connie Havens Colonna of East Hampton, and a brother, Nick Havens of Amagansett, as well as 11 nieces and nephews.

A graveside service was held on Saturday at Oak Grove Cemetery in Amagansett. Memorial donations have been suggested to the Wounded Warriors Project at woundedwarriorproject.org, or Box 758517, Topeka, Kan. 66675-8517.