“Back in those days we’d sail our Pearson Triton out from Greenwich Bay, we’d take the kids out to Block Island, and that’s how we came to buy The 1661 Inn,” said Justin Abrams. In the latter part of the summer of 1970, I worked for the Abram’s family. They had a little sandwich shop next to The Empire Theatre. It had great sandwiches. Mark and Rick Abrams would open up the shop and work a shift, and then I’d come in and work until closing. Several years ago, Justin and I discussed how efficient the little steam heater was for heating up the sandwiches. He shook his head and beamed while telling me how great it was.
Justin beamed about many things: sailboats, llamas, historical non-fiction, Costa Rica, his kids, his grandkids, Winslow Homer, gardening, and his farm. We once discussed the merits of the fat content of emus in contrast to beef. He was a guy who could hold an informed conversation about many engaging topics. He smiled a lot, and he was well mannered. I liked him from the jump back in 1970.
One morning I stopped by the Inn to get something for the sandwich shop. He was in the kitchen washing dishes and trying to cook at the same time. Rita, Joan, Rick, and Mark were all hustling in the dining room and they were getting slammed. Justin very politely asked me if I could help him. He was sweating in the heat. I washed, he cooked. The family was on a mission to make The 1661 Inn work in those days. They were a team and worked very hard — admirable stuff. They were also learning on the fly. A few years later they bought the Hotel Manisses. The rest is history.
Justin loved sailing. He always would ask me to keep an eye out for a Pearson Ensign while I was sailing in Newport. He wanted one so he and Rita could blast around Salt Pond. He loved those boats. He also loved the family’s Pearson Triton. Whatever boat he would have, he’d tell me to go use it anytime. We always talked about going for a sail in my boat, but scheduling things was always tough. Way back when he bought a place in Costa Rica, he invited me to go down with my family and use the place. Besides being a likeable guy, he was very generous.
As stated earlier, Justin loved his farm, and when he’d roll in to the ferry dock at Point Judith he always had something different in a trailer. “Hey, Joe, I’ve got some emus in this rig, go take a look. They’re fascinating animals,” he said. Donkeys, camels, goats, ducks, sheep, llamas and a tortoise are some of the animals Justin brought over to Abram’s Animal Farm. Over the years he had me shaking my head and cracking up over these animals. What I always admired about Justin was his enthusiasm about whatever he was developing, growing, reading, or sailing. He lent me a book on Gen. George Patton last year, and one day at the Point Judith Lighthouse we had a long talk about the book along with other important elements of American history. He loved talking about history.
Over the 45 years I knew Justin Abrams I never heard a hard word said about him. He was a gentleman. I was going through a rough patch about 20 years ago; he told me if I needed anything to let him know. Justin wasn’t a guy who paid lip service; he meant what he said. One day we talked about his son Rick, who was doing poorly. The way this man spoke about his son was heartbreaking, but he wanted to share a few things with me. When Rick passed, he brought me an article to read about his son. It was a great article and it was his way of showing me how much he loved his son and how proud of him he was.
The summer of ’70 ended, and on Labor Day evening the Abrams Family was taking all of their help out to dinner over at Champlain’s in New Harbor. I was invited to take my girlfriend. We all met at the Inn and had drinks. Justin and Joan were hosting us as if we were guests at the Inn. They waited on us kids as if we were adults. They were polite. This was a memorable moment. At the restaurant we all were encouraged to order a soup to nuts dinner. We did, and we all had a great time.
After dinner, Joan walked around and handed out envelopes to all of the kids who worked for them that summer. We had just had this great dinner, and it was clear that none of us expected anything else. I opened up the envelope and was shocked at what was in it. I took Justin aside, and told him that I thought he and his wife made a mistake. I reminded him that I had only worked at the sandwich shop for a month. “No, Joe, it’s not a mistake, we wanted to give you this, have a good year in school,” he said shaking my hand. What was in the envelope helped me substantially that semester in college. I’ll never forget this. Finally, a few years ago, I had reminded Justin how I never forgot that night those many years ago.
“We were happy we could do this for you young hardworking kids,” he said smiling. For me, Justin Abrams will always remain the genuine article — a man’s man.