Honoring Fallen Brother Joe McGovern w/ A Proper Memorial Paddle-Out

August 19, 2015 • News

Written by Danielle Abbruzzi — A paddle-out in memory of Joe McGovern took place on Friday, August 7th, 2015 at Narragansett Town Beach. In a traditional Hawaiian-style send-off, the Northeast surf community gathered together to pay respect to a beloved surfer, photographer, journalist, and fine Irish gent. Hundreds lined the sand greeting one another from all parts of the world before 150 surfers including Joe’s wife Maryellen McGovern, daughters Katie and Jennie, son-in-laws Mike Dowling and Ricky Hart, grandson James, and brother Don McGovern all filled the ocean to join in hands.

The memorial paddle-out for beloved New England photographer, writer, and friend Joe McGovern took place on Friday, August 7th. Photo: Steve Melidossian

Town Beach, Narragansett, Rhode Island. Photo: Josh Edenbaum

As the circle formed, a small row boat manned by Felix Sarubbi, McGovern’s friend of 40 years, carried Joe’s oldest daughter Katie Dowling with her son James to its center. Katie opted not to paddle after giving birth to a baby girl only weeks before. Felix, who organized the paddle-out, recited a prayer, also read by him at McGovern’s eulogy, and a poem was read by Jennie to her father. Many hoots and shouts concluded the large paddle-out into light onshore easterly winds, paying homage to an irreplaceable family man, surfer, and friend.

The turnout was amazing but certainly not surprising. Photo: Mez

150-plus strong lined up and ready to paddle. Photo: Bruce Chrisner

Joe on the job photographing the Water Brothers Surf Fest across the bridge at the Doris Duke Mansion in Newport, August 2012. Photo: Mez

After earning a Bachelor of Arts from Rhode Island College in 1973, McGovern did a two-year tour on the North Shore as surfer and lifeguard. Upon returning he would then earn a Master of Library Science degree, going on to work for the State of Rhode Island as a Library and Media Specialist, surfing and photographing surf all along the way. He married Maryellen Delaney and they raised two beautiful daughters — safely said, his greatest accomplishments. Daughter Jennie had shared her regard for her father on McGovern’s Facebook page following his death: “All my life, I have been proud to call Joe McGovern my dad. I knew I was lucky that I had an extraordinary man forever on my side.”

(Left) Easy to tell where daughter Katie Dowling inherited the smile. (Right) Joe’s reach as a human being and keeper of his beloved New England surfing community’s surfing flame knew no age boundaries. Left photo: Mez; right photo: Tripp Burman

Longtime friend, Ruggles charger, and photo subject Craig Knowles with son Colin. Photo: Chrisner

Joe McGovern’s contribution to the New England surf community is immeasurable. A career spanning over 40 years, Joe’s behind the lens travels and early surf documentation earned him legendary status. For Rhode Island surfers, his photos were a source of pride, capturing the accuracy of surf life on our tough and rugged coastline. Without sponsored surfers paddling out in his own backyard, Joe looked to his community inspiring him to cultivate a portfolio filled with electric shots of local surfers. Among his repertoire were South County’s finest such as Peter Pan, Mario Frade, Dave Levy, Tricia Pan, Sue Hogan, Chris Maletta, Jamie Risser, Greg Levy, and Stephen Melidossian, as well as Newport’s own Sid Abbruzzi, Eddie Burke, Justin Casey, Mike Reise, Kurt Razza, Craig Knowles, and Brian Burns. Photos of the talented surfers streamed throughout the years adding intrigue and excitement to the Northeast surf legacy.

Lots of hugs and heartfelt embraces were going around. Photo: Mez

Community cross section number one. Photo: Mez

East coast surfing pioneers Peter “Pan” Panagiotis and Sid “The Package” Abbruzzi were given ample coverage. As friend/unofficial ghost writer to both careers, McGovern produced decades of photos and articles illustrating their influence and propagation of East Coast surfing. No job was too big or small for Joe to cover. McGovern brought the same professionalism to the numerous ESA surf contests he photographed as he did his in-depth work as a curator for the East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame. A reliable source, McGovern became a thread for New England surf communities, establishing him as a direct contact for many media sources. In addition to his ESM tenure, Joe’s work has been published in The Surfer’s Journal, Surfer, Surfing, Sports Illustrated, The Boston Globe, Transworld Skateboarding, and Longboard Magazine to name a few. The surf world and his subjects will be forever grateful to Joe’s dedication to capturing a life’s work of surfing from his skillful eye.

Joe with daughter Jennie Hart at the Doris Duke Mansion, August 2012. Photo: Mez

The turnout was befitting of a a person whom Derek Hynd succinctly called “Simply a good man.” If you lined up all the paddlers kneeling in front of the standing ones shoulder-to-shoulder, Tom Brady himself of Joe’s beloved Patriots would have a hard time throwing a football their entire distance. Photo: Mez

A goofyfooter who loved lefts at The Dock, McGovern was a wealth of knowledge who sought to educate and inspire others through his love for surfing. “Joe had a very easygoing and giving manner about him,” said legendary surf writer and finless surfer Derek Hynd. “From my chats and drives with him, he was a quiet and warm person — simply a good man.” That sums up what many would describe of their encounter with Joe. Hynd met McGovern through Sid Abbruzzi in 2011 to help piece together clips of footage Abbruzzi had filmed of Derek at Jeffery’s Bay for a slideshow.

Heaven’s eye view. Photo: Melidossian

Remembering Joe. Photo: Melidossian

(Left) Jennie Hart with Big Cuz Tom Mc Govern. (Right) Narragansett local and surf instructor Matt Fraza chats up a fellow paddler after the ceremony at sea. Photos: Mez

Joe passed away on January 7th, 2015 in Central Florida after a tragic surfing accident. Friday’s paddle-out gave many the opportunity to again give recognition to McGovern’s passing and celebrate his life. Following the paddle-out, a large group of family and friends reassembled at the Mettatuxet Yacht Club for a reception with food, drinks, and music. Donations were given for a silent auction being held to raise funds for a memorial bench in McGovern’s name to be placed at a favorite spot, Narragansett Town Beach. Felix Sarubbi thanked the help of Joe’s family, Kathy Delaney, and Bill Shockley, who helped Sarubbi coordinate the event, raising upwards of $6,500 and securing the formation of McGovern’s memorial bench.

Community cross section number three. Photo: Tripp Burman

Jeanne, Mike, Katie, and James Dowling. Photo: Mez

Longtime friend and Matunuck Surfing Association brother Bill Leddy honored Joe by doing the full Marine Corps style spit and shine on his cherry ’60s VW, racking up his two favorite old-school longboards, and rolling out to Town Beach in style to pay his respects. Photo: Mez

Additional funds and future contributions will be given to “The Joe McGovern Memorial Fund” established by Joe’s family to benefit various surf charities.

Photographers Bob Johnson and Steve Melidossian along with Paul Murray. Photo: Mez

(Left) Peter Pan feeling the stoke and remembrance of several decades of friendship and photo adventures. (Right) ‘Gansett local and Warm Winds Surf Shop owner Tom Hogan with New Jersey rep/photographer Bruce Chrisner and New Hampshire legend’s legend Kevin “Doc” Grondin Photos: Mez

Hey groms — #livelikejoe. Learn it, know it, LIVE it. Photo: Burman

Katie Dowling with Joe’s grandson James joined the circle via a beautiful old-school dinghy powered by Felix Sarubbi. James took it all in with a surfer’s aplomb and style that’s obviously in his genes. Photo: Edenbaum

Mike Geraghty and friend Liz sharing the stoke of celebrating a man who embodied the word until his very last act on earth. Photo: Edenbaum

Longtime friend Wes Yockey of Coastal Surf Designs, whom Joe repped for, came in from California. Photo: Edenbaum

Another view of the circle looking north. Photo: Chrisner

Community cross section number 4. Photo: Chrisner

Joe’s sense of curiosity, quest for knowledge, and thirst for adventure made him one of the most interesting people you could ever hope to pour the perfect Guinness with (he knew how to do that too) and talk story for hours. Cold front photo recon, January 2010, Rockledge Gardens, Florida. Photo: Mez

(Left) A benefit befitting a man with a very generous heart. (Right) Kris Browning had her hands full manning the raffle ticket booth. Photos: Mez

The outpouring was palpable and sales were brisk with a commemorative bench in Joe’s name a done deal early on. That mean all extra raffle proceeds would go to Surfers Healing, one of Joe’s favorite charities. We don’t know if it was harder to get a raffle ticket or a cold beer, but both were well worth the wait. Photo: Mez

(Left) Maryellen McGovern and Felix Sarubbi at the Mettatuxet Yacht Club benefit. (Right) Photographers Steve Melidossian and Nicole Crugnale. Photos: Chrisner

Mettatuxet meeting of the minds: (right to left) Dave Livingston, Maryellen McGovern, and Danielle and Sid Abbruzzi. Photo: Chrisner

A near-mint Jacks Surfboards donated by Buck Barker was the showpiece raffle item, with Carl Granquist winning the beautiful old-school log. Photo: Mez

Joe McGovern, sliding into silver at Matunuck. Photo: Melidossian

Gathering at ‘Gansett. Photo: Melidossian

joe mcgovern

May the sun shine warm upon your face, old friend… Photo: Mez

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