Rev. Ted Hoskins — the beloved former minister of Saugatuck Congregational Church, and a longtime force in Westport’s interfaith and social justice communities — died earlier this month. “06880” paid tribute with this story.
His family has now released his obituary, describing his full, impactful life. They say:
Theodore Gardner Hoskins, longtime Congregational minister and ardent advocate for social justice and for the sustainability of Maine’s fishing communities, died August 5 at his home in Portland, Maine, where he and wife Linda moved a few years ago, from Blue Hill, Maine.
Rev. Ted Hoskins
“Ted” was born on August 4, 1933, to Rev. Fred and Alice Hoskins, in Bridgeport, where his father was a minister. Ted attended Mt. Hermon Academy, Oberlin, and Illinois College and the Yale Divinity School. While a student at Yale Divinity School, he worked with youth at Saugatuck Congregational Church.
After ordination in 1959, Ted became associate minister to youth at Saugatuck. He served as senior minister to the South Glastonbury Congregational Church from 1962 to 1971.
In 1971, he returned to Westport as senior minister at Saugatuck until 1994, when he accepted an offer from the Maine Seacoast Mission) to be the boat minister to island communities. This included Isle au Haut, an island Ted had known and loved since age 9 where his father was the summer minister starting in the 1940s.
Local clergymen, including Rev. Ted Hoskins (Saugatuck Congregational Church) and Rabbi Byron T. Rubenstein (Temple Israel) march in front of a banner urging peace.
Ted became summer minister on Isle au Haut in the 1970s and kept the position until 2013. For many years, Ted also preached yearly at the Chapel at Ocean Reef in Key Largo, lured by the promise of a deep-sea expedition.
Ted’s ministry at Saugatuck Congregational Church — as well as his fairmindedness and diplomatic, yet tenacious, activism and advocacy in the Westport community — was legendary. He came to be known as “the conscience of Westport.”
He possessed a determined desire for social justice and fairness, as well as an inestimable capacity to lead and to galvanize people of often extremely opposed viewpoints. Through his steady and unerring moral leadership, some of the many programs that he founded or was instrumental in founding include a town shelter for unhoused men, followed eventually by an emergency shelter for women, named Hoskins Place; affordable elderly housing; countless recovery programs at the church at a time when social stigma around alcohol and substance addiction was widespread; a vibrant, town-wide, interfaith council; a program to address prison recidivism; the first satellite day care program in Connecticut, and a safe place at the church, including housing and family counseling, for runaway youths.
Hoskins Place is Westport’s shelter for homeless women.
Ted influenced the lives of many youths in Westport for the better. As he put it in a newspaper interview from the 1970s, “for some of these kids, life at home had gotten to the point where they felt the only options they had left was suicide or running away. We’re providing a third option.”
The local Thanksgiving community meal he started in the 1970s remains a town institution to this day, feeding hundreds. During the days of his ministry, Ted could always be found on feast day in the church kitchen starting at 2 or 3 a.m., prepping turkeys, and not stopping until late into the day, always with a warm smile and optimistic words to greet everyone.
Ted was a tireless moral compass for Westport and beyond. It would be impossible to quantify how many people Ted baptized and married, counseled and buried over the course of his life. Just like the doors to the church that Ted asserted must always be open, Ted’s phone was never off, day or night. As one parishioner put it when Ted and Linda moved from Westport to Maine, “There are probably 3 or 4 generations of Westporters who think that God looks like Ted Hoskins.”
Ted possessed a deep and deeply-personal understanding of coastal Maine and especially of those who make their hardscrabble livelihoods from its waters. Ted even worked as a commercial sternman in his youth and often could be seen throughout his life fishing off the docks of Isle au Haut or off his boat or teaching his children, Dan and Robin, to do the same when they were young.
Rev Ted Hoskins (Photo courtesy of Penobscot Bay Press)
On Isle au Haut, Ted was “summer minister” in name only, for he was an integral part of the community, winter and summer. In truth, Ted needed little excuse to find himself on Isle au Haut, including for a year in the 1970s when he took a leave of absence from Westport and taught at the island’s 1-room schoolhouse.
No place captured his heart like Isle au Haut. As a young man, he hauled traps, tended weir, and netted herring alongside those born there, and going back generations. There, Ted was both loved and accepted as an “islander” — no mean feat.
Aside from Sunday mornings at the church, Ted could equally be found calling square dances at the Town Hall, skillfully moderating occasionally fractious annual town meetings, hauling heavy steaming pots of water at Isle au Haut clam bakes, or rowing his skiff like a native in the island’s thoroughfare.
Above all, Ted made himself unsparingly available to share the joys and heartaches of the people around him, in Maine as in Connecticut before. As Ted put it, “People are people. A divorce or business failure in Connecticut hurts just as much as it does on a Maine island.”
Upon Ted and Linda’s move to Maine in 1994, Ted became extensively involved in issues around coastal fisheries’ sustainability. He understood innately the anxieties and precarious nature of a fishing life. This “semi-retirement” job as boat minister seemingly only served to increase the unfathomable number of endeavors that Ted met head on. “Slowing down” was not a comfortable concept to Ted; nor was ignoring injustice and need.
The island ministry led Ted to the conviction that he could better advocate for the island and coastal fishing communities from a new position he created within the Mission in 2002: minister to coastal communities. For this work, Ted studied at the Cody Institute in Nova Scotia in Community Resource Management and started or joined fishery-related organizations that have become pivotal in discussions in the Gulf of Maine over coastal and island sustainability and livelihood.
When in 2007 his role could no longer be funded through the Mission, Ted — as always — was not stopped; he continued apace with the same determination and, arguably, even more work.
He served on the boards of the Penobscot East Resource Center; Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance; Cobscook Bay Resource Center; and the Saltwater Network. He was a fellow at the Quebec-Labrador Foundation; a Founder of Stonington Fisheries Alliance; a member of the Maine DMR Lobster Advisory Council; a founder and co-chair of the Downeast Initiative; moderator for several Canadian/American Lobster Town Meetings; co-founder and facilitator of Community Fisheries Action Roundtable.
Ted also led post-hurricane work groups to Honduras and for many years to Belize, to the river/oceanfront town of Monkey River. There, local fishermen asked Ted to help them organize as he had in Maine. This led to the creation of the Belize Federation of Fishers, with Ted traveling monthly to villages along the coast for several years to galvanize and help coordinate the fishing communities, along with input from scientists and policymakers, at a national level.
Ted was a gifted leader who gained the trust of almost everyone he met through his lack of pretense, matter-of-fact nature, and quiet dignity — and a wicked laugh and cracking sense of humor. Ted also possessed a deep baritone voice that could command attention in a chapel of just about any size, often without an organ to accompany Sunday service.
He had a steadfast and lifelong sense of service to others, and many have noted his “strong and even unwavering moral compass.” He inspired others to the same, but never in a way that felt pressured. Ted had a commanding knowledge of Scripture but was much more likely to have a cribbage board than a Bible tucked under his arm.
A big, bearded bear of a man, it is not too much to say that his blue eyes twinkled both lovingly and mischievously, and his ready and charismatic smile betrayed his hefty frame. His ever-present bushy beard has been described as “Lincolnesque,” or “that of a sea captain,” and his gentle ways as “a quiet steadiness that inspires confidence.” Ted liked to wear a colorful t-shirt that his family had given him, which said, “Fish Worship? Is It Wrong?” It represented the twin themes of his life: service to God and love of the sea.
In the last several years, as Alzheimer’s more firmly gripped Ted, his family and close friends remained deeply grateful that Ted’s limitless kindness, humor, humility, and magnanimity never left him. And, in perhaps the greatest of gifts that this terrible disease usually steals, Ted never lost the ability to recall his family and others in close contact with him.
In his final weeks and months, as his limitations grew more sizeable and his dependency greater, Ted would often raise his shoulders, sigh in gentle acceptance, and declare to Linda, “well, shit.” For the countless people who knew Ted, who deeply admired him, who were moved by him and helped by him, who were inspired by him, for those many, many who loved him deeply, we could not agree more.
Ted leaves behind his wife of 35 years, Linda; his daughter Robin; stepdaughter Whitney (Paul Ovigele) and their children Sebastian and Sloane; stepson Fenner Ball (partner Maria Spencer); brother Bob Hoskins (Carol), and nephews and nieces. Ted was predeceased by his son Dan, who died young in a boating accident; sister Mary Ellen Lazakis, and his faithful lap dachshund Henry, who, by near-universal accounts, was grouchy to everyone except Ted.
A memorial service will be held September 10 (2 p.m.). at the Blue Hill Congregational Church. The service will also be available online through the church website.