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EIGHT BELLS - Donelson C. Glassie, Jr.
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Feb 8, 2011, 3:49 PM

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EIGHT BELLS - Donelson C. Glassie, Jr. Log-In to Post/Reply

NEW YORK CITY, N.Y. - Donelson (Don) C. Glassie, Jr., died Thursday, Feb. 3, at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. The sailor/entrepreneur had been a Newport resident since the mid 1970s. He was 76.

Born in Washington, D.C., to the late Donelson Caffery Glassie and Sara Madison Eccles, Don grew up in Chevy Chase, MD. His first sailing experiences were aboard a Herreshoff “12 ½” in Falmouth, MA, where his family spent a portion of many summers. He worked as a sailing instructor on Cape Cod throughout his teenage years.

At Amherst College, he majored in economics. Oft-told stories were of a dorm room so messy it earned him an award, a spring-break road trip to Florida in a vintage ambulance (Don loved old cars) and a summer working on a fishing boat in Alaska. Following graduation in 1956, he worked for Reynolds Metals in Louisville, KY, then spent three years in the U.S. Air Force as a radar controller in Casablanca, Morocco. He later studied electronic engineering at Stanford University as well as business at George Washington University.

After a brief stint with the Small Business Administration in Washington, D.C., Don started on the path of entrepreneurship. He imported turtle necks and ski sweaters – he was skiing religiously until just a few weeks ago – and patented several items (such as a rescue sled and glove protectors for those riding rope tows) under the company name Ski Ventures. That led to a women’s fashion business, with Don designing sweater dresses, hot pants (these were the 1960s) and a full line of clothing under his own label: Popkins Lane.

The “rag business,” as Don called it, was what brought him to New England; he moved to Uxbridge, MA, as it made sense to be near the textile mills in the Blackstone Valley. Don started spending time in nearby Rhode Island at this point. He raced a Herreshoff “S” boat, “Vixen,” out of the Rhode Island Yacht Club in Edgewood.

Then one day, circa 1974, he spied “Fortune” in Newport Harbor. The 1926 Crowninshield-design schooner needed lots of work, and Don – with long-time friend and partner-in-so-many-ventures John Taft – got it done. “Fortune” has been a presence in classic yacht races ever since: in Newport, down the Connecticut coast to Long Island, northward as far as Maine. A highlight of every summer was the Opera House Cup in Nantucket, where the 50’ racing schooner took top honors three times. Another highlight was the New York Yacht Club’s annual cruise.

In 2001, “Fortune” was shipped across the Atlantic to take part in the America’s Cup Jubilee – celebrating the 150th anniversary of the race around the Isle of Wight which established the America’s Cup – in Cowes, England. Boat and crew performed well; Don won the award for best finish in the fleet by an owner-helmsman. Later that season, “Fortune” placed first overall in the Prada Veteran Boat Rally in Porto Cervo, Italy, and was among the top finishers at the Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez.

By 1977, Don had taken up residence in Newport, where his focus became real estate. He started with a single building on Spring Street and worked his way up to converting historic buildings into condominiums and renovating small inns. His company, Yankee Development Corp., operates the Yankee Peddler Inn, Jailhouse Inn and Harborside Inn to this day.

Following a trip down the inland waterway to Florida, Don became intrigued by the Art Deco District of South Miami Beach. During the 1980s and 1990s, he orchestrated renovations of five hotels along Ocean Drive and Collins Avenue. The Avalon Hotel and the South Seas Hotel are still operated by the company.

More recently, in New York City, his projects included transforming a 1906 educational building into the Park South Hotel (open since 2001) and building the 20-story Strand Hotel (which opened in late 2009).

On the Newport waterfront, Don’s legacies include harbor tour boats “Madeleine,” “Rumrunner II” and the 160’ sailing cruise yacht “Arabella.” Then there were the Used Boat Shows, which he initiated and operated (as Yankee Boat Peddlers) for more than a twenty years. He was also an early supporter of the Museum of Yachting at Fort Adams, a partner in the Newport Shipyard as it was undergoing revitalization and a regular patron of the Clarke Cooke House on Bannister’s Wharf.

Of course, every one of Don’s endeavors – in life, in business, at sea – involved an entire crew of individuals whose efforts, talents and affections helped make his visions realities. And it wasn’t accomplishments so much as “character” that made him the remarkable (and remarkably unassuming) man he was.

Don leaves four siblings: Sallie Griffith of Belvedere, CA, Jefferson Glassie of Bethesda, MD; Claire Carlin of Kensington, MD; and John Glassie of New York, NY. Six children: Elizabeth (and Paul) Doucette of Newport; Thomas Glassie of Newport; Alison, Georgia and Jacquelin Glassie of Jamestown; and Christopher Glassie of Newport. Four grandchildren, all of Newport: Sander and Dee Doucette; Annie and Jack Glassie. Two former wives: Phyllis Wright Fragola of Barrington and Marcia Sallum Glassie of Jamestown. His current partner Melissa O’Brien of Newport. And many special friends.

A memorial service will be held Saturday, February 12, 2011 at 2 p.m., at Trinity Church, Queen Anne Square, Newport. (See for more information.)

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Sail Newport, 60 Fort Adams Drive, Newport, RI 02840.

The only way to end is by saying (as Don would), “Have a blast.”

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