James Lester, Bayman

May 5, 1941 - Dec. 10, 2018
James Lester, May 5, 1941 - Dec. 10, 2018

James W. Lester, a lifelong bayman, fisherman, and Amagansett resident, died at home after a long illness on Dec.10 at the age of 77. He had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and prostate cancer, his partner for 35 years, Sandra Vorpahl, said.

“Jimmy had fishing in his blood,” Ms. Vorphal said. He was the grandson of Capt. Bill Lester, who had a haul-seining crew, and the son of William T. Lester, a bayman, and the former Sarah Thomason. 

Over the years, Mr. Lester went scalloping, lobstering, conching, trap fishing, and fishing on draggers out of Montauk. During winters in the 1960s and ’70s, he also fished for yellowtail flounder with Norman Edwards on the Robert E out of Promised Land, but trap fishing was what he liked best.

“It was like going to an aquarium every time you lifted,” said Ms. Vorphal, who fished with him for 24 years. He had been among the commercial fishermen here who brought in striped bass from the ocean.

“We hung on as long as we could until the Department of En­viron­mental Conservation made so many restrictions that we couldn’t make a living. The loss of the bass fishery was devastating. We were only allowed a certain number of fish every year,” Ms. Vorpahl said.

Mr. Lester sold the traps and his boat, the Tern, in 2007 and returned to raking for clams in Napeague Harbor, Northwest Harbor, and around Barcelona until he could no longer work.

He was born on May 5, 1941, at Southampton Hospital. He went to the Amagansett School and East Hampton High School, and then went bull-raking for clams. He also worked for a time at the Maidstone Club, Lester Motors in East Hampton, and Magrett Auto Body in Wainscott, but the water beckoned him.

  “Jimmy was not college educated, but he was one of the smartest people I ever knew,” Ms. Vorphal said, adding that he had great common sense.

“He fixed everything on the Tern, made his own nets and traps and fixed any breakdowns at the house. When he got his iPad he went on YouTube and started making things for his children, grandchildren, great-grandson, relatives, and neighbors,” she said. He built a wooden frame of a boat and decorated it with Christmas lights, which became a favorite for anyone that drove by his Montauk Highway house. 

He is survived by a son, William J. Lester of Westhampton Beach, and Ms. Vorphal’s children, William Vorphal and Mary Vorphal of Amagansett, whom he considered family. A son, Wayne Vorphal, died in 2013. Three grandchildren and one great-grandchild also survive, as do two brothers, Larry Lester of Rutherfordton, N.C., and Jack Lester of Amagansett, and two nieces and a nephew. He had first married Kathryn Doering of St. Louis, in 1962. She died in 1981.

A memorial service will be held in the spring. His ashes will be dispersed in Napeague and Northwest Harbors when they are returned by Stony Brook University’s Department of Anatomical Sciences. 

His family suggested memorial contributions to East End Hospice, P.O. Box 1048, Westhampton Beach 11978, or the Department of Anatomical Sciences, Stony Brook University Hospital, Health Sciences Tower, Level 8, Room 040, Stony Brook 11794-8081. Any checks should be made payable to the Stony Brook Foundation.

“Jimmy always said that he didn’t need any drugs. He just had to be on the water to watch sunrise and nature. He just loved being a bayman, and was proud of it,” Ms. Vorphal said.