Roxanne Jones Homer of Southwest Harbor, a woman of many talents and an indomitable spirit of adventure, died of pancreatic cancer Oct. 3, 2011 at the Brigham and Women’s hospital in Boston.
She was born in Syracuse N.Y. on Jan. 21 1932, the daughter of William Binion Jones, Jr. and his wife Mary Potter Jones.
Growing up, “Rocky” spent her summers on Buck Island in Lake Placid, N.Y. and throughout her life this and other islands would play a major role.
After high school, she made a beeline for upstate New York again, to attend Alfred University where she pursued her interest and considerable talent in ceramics. While there she met a classmate studying industrial design, Richard “Dick” Homer.
Dick says he can’t recall the exact moment of their first encounter, but does remember being smitten by Rocky’s upbeat personality and adventuresome spirit.
“She was always game for anything, within reason,” he says. “She’d follow me down some pretty steep trails on the ski slopes, drive a hydroplane at 65 mph, and was always looking forward to the next adventure.”
Rocky and Dick knew in short order that they were made for one another. On Oct. 17, 1953 they married, continuing an adventurous 60-year union that eventually took them to some of the remotest islands in the world.
But their life together began on a more prosaic note in Granville, Ohio, where Dick took his first job, with a commercial ceramics company. Rocky opened up her own art ceramics studio, turning out handsome slip glazed vessels.
Eventually the Homers settled in Wellesley, Mass., where three daughters completed the family and, as it turned out, made an able-bodied crew of sailors.
In the summers the family visited Rocky’s beloved Buck Island camp, and Mount Desert Island where Dick’s family had been a seasonal presence on Fernald Point since 1892. Here they experienced the thrill of ocean sailing.
In the late 1960s, Dick started looking for a sailboat big enough to take his family of five and two crew members around the world.
“One winter I was looking for boats in Grenada, and when I returned home to cold, snowy Massachusetts with no boat to show for it, but a nice suntan, Rocky was not pleased, and let me know exactly how she felt,” Dick recalls. “After her tirade was finished her father admonished her, ‘For Christ’s sake, have some faith, Jones!’”
When they finally did find the perfect 50-foot ketch in Florida, they named it Faith Jones.
In 1969 the Homer family left for the coast of Florida, to complete work on Faith Jones and begin their global circumnavigation. While three years later they had not quite completed the full circle, they had visited such far-flung places as the Bahamas, the Virgin Islands, Panama, Ecuador, Columbia, Costa Rica and the Galapagos Islands, experiencing enough adventures to keep the family supplied with stories – some of them hair-raising – to last a lifetime.
“Early on in our travels we stopped in at San Salvador, Bahamas the first place Columbus landed in the New World,” Dick recalls. “And we were surprised to be greeted by a large contingent of natives including a very large woman who was the mayor of the island, and just so happened to be named Faith Jones.”
Less amicable encounters occurred off the coast of South America, included twice being accosted by pirates.
After three years, the Homers decided to end their journeys, and settle. They chose one of their favorite islands, MDI, for a permanent home.
It was a hard transition for the girls. “On the boat every day was filled with some new sight, some new adventure,” says daughter Deborah. “I must have felt like my mother did when she had to move to Chicago as a girl.”
Rocky found plenty in Southwest Harbor to keep her occupied. She founded the “Food Conspiracy” co-op. She worked in the retail store at the Boathouse and was the bookkeeper for Able Marine.
However, Rocky is best known for her 22 years as the store manager and assistant buyer at the Kimball Shop in Northeast Harbor. There she put her cheery smile and her degree to good use, helping make the shop a premier resource for fine china and pottery.
At home, Rocky and Dick enjoyed entertaining a wide circle of friends including connections nurtured through the Great Maine Post of the Cruising Club of America.
For many years during MDI’s mud season, the family left for Great Guana Cay in the Bahamas to stay with Gretchen and Toby Strong.
In the spring of 2003 Rocky was diagnosed with leukemia. She attacked the disease with her characteristic determination and optimism. After a grueling six months of chemotherapy she and Dick celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. She enjoyed seven cancer free years, continuing her work at the Kimball Shop, and greeting new grandchildren and great-nieces and nephews.
In 2010 pancreatic cancer struck. Normally this form runs its deadly course in three to seven months, but Rocky managed to eke out another 21 months, of good, full life.
In the week preceding her death, Rocky celebrated her husband’s birthday, took a ride in Gretchen Strong’s vintage convertible VW bug and made the long trip to visit her sister in Lake Placid, N.Y. She and her sister were able to visit her childhood camp on Buck Island. She also attended a musical review and dinner party.
“I met her partway, Sunday evening,” says daughter Susi “and could see she wasn’t well and took her straightaway to the Brigham, where she was due to start chemo in the morning. She was in the midst of telling the doctors there about her exciting weekend and admitting to feeling a little tired when her blood pressure crashed and she was gone. We will miss her so much. But we all believe this last excursion, visiting people and places she loved, was her own wonderful exit plan.”
In addition to her husband Richard W. Homer,, she is survived by her daughters Deborah Homer and her husband Bill DuBois of Jamestown, R.I.; Susannah Homer of Southwest Harbor; Sarah Fortin and her husband Marc of Portland; William Johnson, her chosen son, of Mill Valley, Calif.; grandchildren Katherine Roy of New Orleans, Zach and Mikayla Fortin of Portland; sister Georgia Jones of Lake Placid, N.Y., Arthur Volmrich of Lake Placid, N.Y., brother-in-law Stephen Homer and his wife Nancy of Southwest Harbor; and many nieces and nephews.
A celebration of Rocky’s life is scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2011, from 2 to 6 p.m. at the Birches at 44 Fernald Point Rd. The family requests attendees not wear black.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the MDI Community Sailing Center, P.O. Box 116, Southwest Harbor ME 04679.