The Queen and Gene

Remembering real life royalty

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Whenever something happens with the royal house of Windsor, all of England turns into a small town.

What I love most about covering our small towns is exactly the spirit that is fueling the bittersweet celebration of a life well-lived in all corners of the United Kingdom right now—a sense of knowing someone through constancy, dependability, and a damn good duty to community.

Town historian Gene Horton was a local royal to those that knew him and those that knew of him, living a life that served as a place keeper for a long, trusted, and continuing history.

The first time I heard of Gene Horton was with our good friend, power broker Realtor, Bryn Elliott, when we were house hunting in Sayville/Bayport/Blue Point during the beautiful spring of 2013.

Searching for a home in south of Montauk after the fury of Superstorm Sandy the previous fall, the luster of coastal living was somewhat diminished by the fresh cruelty of Mother Nature.

But our anxiety was calmed when Bryn showed us a home on Blue Point Avenue that had been spared by the wrath of Sandy and had been on Gene’s historical tour.

Bryn told us how Gene recounted this perky little structure had withstood some of the most devastating storms of the century.

He spoke of Gene as the consummate, sagacious professor, but also a man who inspired awe and further curiosity of the towns’ collective past.

When I first met Gene at a Bayport Blue Point Chamber meeting a year later after we settled into our dream cottage (lovingly plaque’d with an English-countryside inspired sign that read “Squirrel Cottage” that Gene loved), he lived up to the ivy league professor image I had of him in his smart bow-tie and perfectly pressed pants.

The newspaper I wrote for at the time had a beloved and colorful publisher, Tom Reid (whom I affectionately called Rupert á la media magnate, Rupert Murdoch), who introduced us.

Gene, a veteran and heralded writer of the South Shore Gazettes welcomed me, a new, young, voice on the paper.

When I expressed my apprehension about “being an outsider,” he warmly offered, “Let the real stories of Sayville and BBP guide you and you’ll always be a part of the town.”

And that was Gene Horton—-paradoxically intellectual and yet paternal with others.

The first article I ever worked on with Gene was about Meadowcroft.

Abstractly, I knew the manor as a former Roosevelt estate, but not much else.

Gene invited me to his home, a perfectly preserved historical treasure that housed an impressive library with all the warmth of a grandfather’s grin.

I told him I wanted to make the Roosevelts more accessible to a contemporary audience and he regaled me for two hours on the shenanigans of the young Roosevelts until they were transformed into Edwardian Kardashians.

That was the magic of Gene’s tireless work and joyful parallels-—he preserved the beauty of the mythical appeal of history, but brought the enchantment of humanity of the central figures, much like Queen Elizabeth did with the royal family in a contemporary world that was finally asking for the sins of colonialism to be atoned.

Upon hearing of his passing in the fall of 2019, Sayville and BBP were unhinged with mourning on social media.

Every post garnered hundreds of not just “likes” but “love” and “sad face” reactions to images of the ever-dapper Mr. Horton at events around the towns.

The word that came up the most to describe Gene was “gentleman” and it couldn’t be more apt for the great man who led his life as a discoverer, storyteller, and icon of the south shore’s treasured history.

Alas, whether it be Queen Elizabeth II, Gene Horton, or a relative---be not sad for the passing, but celebratory of the legacy.

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