Westport remembers Gary Sherman

Shellfishermen, point residents install memorial to late shellfish constable and wharfinger at Westport Point


There were few places Gary Sherman would rather be than on or close to the water. A new memorial unveiled at the point Monday will keep the late shellfish constable and wharfinger's memory alive at the place he loved most.

Sherman, who passed away last July at age 71, served Westport from 1977 until his retirement in 2015, and those who knew him say he did more than many to protect and foster Westport's shellfish stocks, look out for its commercial fishermen and women, and teach anyone who would listen about the water.

That the memorial, a simple granite marker marking his years of service to the town, was paid for by local shellfishermen and members of the Westport Point homeowner's association speaks volumes and came as great comfort to his family, his widow Janice said Friday.

"It was a total surprise to me," she said. "It was a beautiful and lasting tribute. He did a lot for the Town of Westport and it was really his passion to be involved not only from the commercial end of things, but from the environmental side too. He loved it."

Sherman was born in the area but moved to California as a young child. He came from a fishing family, Janice said — his father and grandfather were fishermen, and his uncle did some fishing too. At 19 years old, he returned to Westport, working with the offshore lobster company Prelude for the next five years, and later teamed up with family members to build the 50-foot commercial fishing boat Meredith T, off of which he fished for surf clams and all other manner of species for years. 

“But between trips out on the boat, I was looking for other work," he said in a 2015 interview with the Westport Shorelines. He found it part-time with the town, and learned under the tutelage of former wharfinger Ab Palmer. Sherman was named shellfish constable in 1988.

During his years on the water, Sherman was drawn to the protection of Westport's shellfish stocks and was a tireless advocate for conservation, common sense regulations and the livelihood of commercial fishermen. While the annual seeding of quahog, oyster and scallop had been ongoing for some years before his arrival, Chris Leonard, Westport's current shellfish constable and wharfinger, said Sherman was instrumental in the more recent expansion of those programs. One of his biggest accomplishments, Leonard believes, was establishing a shellfish donation fund through which seed stock was purchased every year. Not a penny of that money ever went to salaries, supplies or gas, Leonard said — it all went to shellfish seed.

"That was Gary," Leonard said. "He's the father of it."

Leonard said he was always impressed with his mentor and colleague's positive attitude and obvious passion for the water, and his ability to turn that passion into progress.

"He was somebody who was never upset," Leonard said. "He would try to help and do his best to educate the public about shellfishing. He had a cool, calm demeanor and he did so many things to help the town," including helping to launch Shellstock, the yearly fund-raiser for the Shellfish Propagation Fund. Last year, the raw bar at Shellstock was dedicated in his honor.

Though Sherman retired from the town's employ eight years ago, saltwater still ran in his veins and he could often be found putting around the Westport River in his 19-foot Ross, Floundering Around.

"He really had a lot of passion for the outdoors, and fishing in particular," his widow said. "He had a lobster license up until last year, and he always loved being out on the water. We still have his boat."

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Mike Rego has worked at East Bay Newspapers since 2001, helping the company launch The Westport Shorelines. He soon after became a Sports Editor, spending the next 10-plus years in that role before taking over as editor of The East Providence Post in February of 2012. To contact Mike about The Post or to submit information, suggest story ideas or photo opportunities, etc. in East Providence, email mrego@eastbaymediagroup.com.