During the morning of September 2, shore bound people around Smokehouse Bay watched several boats raft up in an unusual configuration.
Two of the largest boats dropped anchors, leaving room for the others to raft in a row with them. The crews brought their boats into line, tied their sterns snug together, and ran bow lines and spring lines from one to the next.
Finally, they ran long lines from the sterns of the end boats and pulled inward while slacking the bow lines. Voila! They had created a semicircle of eleven boats centering on Sea Plus, Don and Genevieve Mills’ yawl.
It was creative. It was unique. But, why?
Genevieve Mills would have celebrated 84 years of life on that day had she not “crossed the bar” earlier in the summer. This unusual constellation of boats and gathering of seafarers was a birthday celebration and a memorial service.
It was absolutely appropriate to the person who was Genevieve Mills, a creative cultivator of beauty, a person strong in herself yet who appreciated the individuality of others.
“She never was argumentative,” Don said. “She loved to hear other expressions and would say, ‘Tell me more.’ That was just part of her nature. She was not contentious. She had a point of view of her own, which I knew. But, anybody else always felt she was middle of the road. But, in fact, she had some positions that she felt very deeply about.”
He thought a bit; then said, “She was definitely a libertarian. She felt everybody had the right to be themselves. That’s the way she raised the children. They were … surprisingly … given the freedom to make the decisions that they made.”
Don attempted to convey the multifaceted personality of Genevieve.
“She was a reader. She drove to the University of Southwest Florida every Wednesday. She would read to blind people. They have a special radio set up for people to read for blind people, poetry, stories … Genevieve was especially interested in and good at talking about sales that were happening at local stores.
“She was an avid reader. When she was cooking she’d have a book open to read.
“She was not given to great changes in disposition. She was level. People would ask, ‘How come she stays so calm?’ That was her nature.
“She never saw major problems. Some people would see things as a problem. But, to her it was an exercise. As long as there was a solution, it wasn’t a problem.
“Oft times when we were sailing my knees would be knocking, but she’d be calm. It was not a problem. She had confidence in me and in the boat … mostly the boat.”
Don laughed, noting that good humor was a significant part of their life together.
Most who knew her on Marco saw her as a sailor, an early member of Sailing Association of Marco Island, who had held most SAMI offices, but never Commodore. She didn’t want to be Commodore.
Early in retirement Don and Gen chartered their yawl, with four-hour trips for hotel visitors.
Don chuckled as he remembered, “They would tip her because she was the first mate. I would say, ‘How much did we make?’ and she’d say, ‘We didn’t make anything. But, I made …’ She wouldn’t share her tips!”
They sailed together on their own boat down from New York; also to Key West, the Bahamas, and the Exumas. They bareboat chartered the Caribbean and the Aegean seas. They raced in local regattas until, after their third accident in a race, Gen said, “That’s it. From now on I want to be a spectator.”
Except, she agreed to the SAMI Ladies Regatta provided that there be, “No bumping.”
“She seemed almost impervious,” Don said. “She never was ill. But this thing hit her, and she was gone in two months. Stage four cancer of the brain.”
He paused. Then, “When you look back you see some things that you never saw before. She had the skill of meeting new people. She could converse with them. When new people would join an organization she would say, “Come on, Don. We’ve got to go meet them, make them feel comfortable, make them feel at home.”
So, they circled the boats for Genevieve Mills. They said, “Happy birthday.” And, they said, “Goodbye.”