CAMDEN — After 68 years of unfailingly showing up late, John Paul McKean peacefully departed this world at home with his wife by his side in the early afternoon of September 27, 2021, arriving for drinks in The Great Beyond well ahead of cocktail hour. Then again, as John would say, “it’s always 5 p.m. somewhere.”
When asked where he was from, John usually replied “don’t’ know, haven’t been there yet”; this notwithstanding, others recall that he was, in fact, born on November 15, 1952, in Bay Shore, N.Y. to Gordon and Eleanora McKean.
As the youngest of five siblings, he was in many ways predestined for a lifetime of thriftiness, hoarding, wisecracks, and general irreverence. Although a bright student, these traits manifest themselves early on, prompting his mother’s frequent and oh-so-prophetic admonishment: “John, if you don’t shape up, you’ll end up working on a boat!”
John matriculated at St. Lawrence University in 1970 where he found a natural outlet for his antics as a member of the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity.
In his final (fifth!) year of college, John made the fateful decision to enroll in the university’s semester abroad in Kenya program. Despite a laissez-faire attitude towards personal hygiene while in Africa, his gregarious nature and larger-than-life personality won the heart of the program’s director, Jane Hansmann, who would become the love of his life.
In a feat tantamount to summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro—which, like his senior year, he only achieved on his second attempt—John finally made it onto the Dean’s ‘other’ list (thanks to Jane) and, against all odds, graduated with a B.A. in economics and a minor in theater.
Contrary to the sage advice and fair warning offered by John’s loving family in the spirit of humanitarianism, Jane married John on March 26, 1977—which, as anyone who knew him will attest, was the luckiest damn thing that ever happened to him.
The couple moved to Madison where John attained a Master of Finance from the University of Wisconsin and subsequently earned the designation of Chartered Financial Analyst—a highly respectable profession typically reserved for people who, unlike John, have a penchant for going to bed by 10 p.m. Nevertheless, John’s career took off, first as an analyst with Neville, Rodie & Shaw in New York City and later as Head of Risk Analysis for Horizon Trust.
He excelled in finance partially thanks to a natural talent for manipulating numbers; but it was his far rarer ability to see and understand the people behind the numbers that truly set John apart. During these years, while living in Ridgewood, N.J., his children John, Jeffrey, and Julie were born, thereby earning him the job title of which he always was the proudest: Dad.
Increasingly weary of the stability, convenience, and general contentment afforded by the suburban lifestyle, John took the logical next step: he abandoned his career in finance, uprooted the family, and moved to a fixer-upper of an old schoolhouse on the coast of Maine in 1988.
Although he had vague inklings of pursuing his lifelong love of photography professionally, fate intervened in the form of an 86-foot gaff-rigged topsail schooner—Appledore II—which John spontaneously bought at auction one day while out and about. (It was hardly the first and certainly not the last impulse buy to elicit an eyeroll from Jane when he got home.)
His mother’s prophecy thus fulfilled, John adopted a new self-stylized moniker, ‘Gentleman Explorer’ (whatever the hell that means!), and went into business offering day sails on the Appledore.
John quickly became a fixture of Camden Harbor, marauding the dock with a pocket full of brochures, striking up conversations with strangers (“How’re you folks doing, where are you from?”)—all on the pretext of selling boat rides. But really, John was just doing what he did best and enjoyed most: connecting with people and entertaining them. For him, a two-hour boat ride with a fully stocked and licensed bar was essentially just a floating cocktail party with a captive audience. He truly loved people, and people couldn’t help but love him back.
As John acclimated to his new life in the schooner world, the ‘explorer’ part of his title inevitably superseded ‘gentleman’ (ha!), and he soon found himself achieving new lows—which is to say, he and the Appledore took up wintertime operations in Key West, Florida, the southernmost point of the U.S.
Key West quickly became John’s second home, and over the years he became widely known as ‘Commodore’, a nickname affectionately given to him by the Appledore crew.
Thanks to his larger-than-life personality and affable character he made many friends in Key West, becoming a fixture of the island’s social life in general and the Key West Yacht Club in particular. A crew member once poetically observed that the Commodore was, among other things, “a joker, a sometime smoker, and a midnight talker; a thinker, a drinker, and a respectable career-sinker; a sailor and an out-of-jail crew bailer.”
The years passed, summers in Maine, winters in Florida, with John collecting more friends, acquaintances, memories… and stuff!
He traveled up and down the Eastern Seaboard carting with him cardboard boxes filled with hot sauces, dead batteries, rare whiskeys, fireworks, and those ‘highly collectible’ Happy Meal toys, all of which slowly accrued in heaps and piles within the man-cave wing of John’s Camden home known as ‘The Bunker’.
What looked to most like a scene from the show Hoarders, John defended as precious ‘inventory’. On more than one occasion he returned home from the annual Owls Head antique auto auction with ‘extremely practical’ used cars—from the 1930s, ’50s, and ’60s (cue Jane’s eyerolls).
The adventures of the Commodore multiplied, but through it all, his family remained the center of John’s life. Over the years, the Gentleman Explorer took his family around the world, with trips to Mexico, throughout Europe, back to Kenya, Colombia, Cuba, and many other places, creating with them many happy and cherished memories. He missed no opportunity to tell his children how proud he was of them and how much he loved them.
Ever the romantic, John was constantly thinking up new sentimental gestures for his beloved ‘Janie’, and together, they filled their homes in Camden and Key West, and their condo in Delray Beach, Florida with warmth and love.
Surviving John—and left to sort out 33 years’ worth of random crap in The Bunker—are his wife, Jane Hansmann McKean of Camden, Maine; sons John A. McKean (Leanne Minall) of Medford, Massachusetts; Jeffrey McKean of Rockport, Maine; and daughter Julie McKean of Loxahatchee, Florida.
Spared the burden of The Bunker (but keenly aware of it) are his siblings and in-laws: Janet (John) Barre, Gordon (Pat) McKean, Joyce (Eric) Weaver, Leonore McKean (Michael Moore); numerous nieces and nephews, countless dear friends, and a large, cantankerous (and for the most part unincarcerated) extended Appledore family of former captains, mates, deckhands, schooner bums, and general ne’er-do-wells—all of whom loved him dearly.
Although John’s health declined in recent years due to COPD, his wit, charisma, enthusiasm, and good humor—even if it was sometimes gallows humor—never did. He frequently quipped, “If there aren’t martinis in heaven, I’ll be around the corner.”
John, wherever you are, we hope you find yourself holding court at an everlasting cocktail hour filled with good company, bad jokes, and lots of laughter; we have little doubt that you have already made yourself famous—if not infamous! And in your absence, we remember the maxim you taught us: “You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.”
While those of us John left behind miss him terribly, along with his off-color jokes, nutty word games, insatiable playfulness, disarming affection, and infectious love of life, we celebrate and rejoice that his was, indeed, a life well and fully lived.
Private services are being held at the convenience of the family. Condolences and memories may be shared with the family at www.longfuneralhomecamden.com. Arrangements are with the Long Funeral Home, 9 Mountain Street, Camden.