In Memoriam: Charles Dana Densmore


The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution announces with great sorrow the death of retiree Charles Dana Densmore on July 14, at his home in West Falmouth.  He was 89.

Dana was born October 1, 1920 in Brookline, Mass., to George Ellis and Florence Marshall Densmore.  The youngest of three children, he grew up in Brookline and spent every summer with his family on the shores of Buzzards Bay.  He attended the Fenn School in Concord, Mass., and the Fountain Valley School in Colorado Springs, CO.  He returned to the East Coast where in 1940 he was hired by a lawyer from New London who was into buying and selling yachts and “quite by accident, the sea caught me.”  At the start of WWII, he towed targets for the Coast Artillery at Sandy Hook, New Jersey before joining the Navy in 1943 and spending nearly three years in the South Pacific. 

It was in New London in 1941 that he met his future wife, Jean Shipherd, nicknamed “Whitie” by the skipper of one of those yachts for her sun-bleached hair.  After the war, Dana returned with Whitie to South Dartmouth where he had spent his childhood summers and worked as a carpenter and boat builder.  With his “gallant wife raising a family single-handedly” Dana “pursued one lucky man’s life of pelagic wanderings.”  Whitie died in September 2009. They were married for 66 years.

In 1956, his great friend Jan Hahn, founding editor of Oceanus Magazine, introduced him to Columbus Iselin then Director of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) who hired Dana to work as a liaison between the crews and the scientists on the WHOI ships. From there he became involved in the Physical Oceanography department where he worked for the next twenty years doing research on the world’s oceans and worked on 17 ships from five countries for a total of more than 30 cruises.

Dana kept meticulous logs of his voyages with the Oceanographic and assembled a large collection of photographs of those trips.  In 1995, Dana wrote the first of two books, A-Boat, Six Oceanographic Cruises in the World’s Biggest Ketch.  In 2000, An Irregular Sort of Life, chronicled the period of some fifty years in yachts, work-boats, fishermen and finally in oceanography.  After leaving WHOI in 1976 he worked for the NOAA Fisheries Service from 1979 to 1993.  His collection of papers and photographs has been archived at the Oceanographic since 1999. 

A lifetime of friendships made in cramped quarters at sea enriched life at the Densmore home on Blacksmith Shop Road over the last 40 years.  Dana presided over great dinners, outdoor feasts and musical evenings, always pretending to be a curmudgeon and correcting everyone’s English.    Whether he was out walking the dogs or meeting the “old sea captains” for lunch, he always relished a good chat.  Never at a loss for words, Dana could tell a raucous tale about his travels then, just as easily recite from Gilbert and Sullivan.

He is survived by four sons and their wives, Dana (Anne) of Woods Hole; Chauncey (Margaret) of McClellanville, SC; Shipherd (Susan) of West Falmouth and Britt (Randall) of New York City; as well as six grandchildren, Samuel, Cooper, Whitney, Angus, Trevor and Ellis. Two sisters-in-law, Betty Densmore of Pauls Valley, Oklahoma and Mary Shipherd of St. Simons Island, GA, and many nieces and nephews. 

A memorial gathering for family and friends is being planned for the fall.

Britt Densmore contributed to this obituary.





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