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Harry R. Jobes, prolific Havre de Grace decoy carver and a waterman, dies

Harry Robert Jobes, an acclaimed Havre de Grace decoy carver and retired patrol boat captain, died of pneumonia Friday at Harford Memorial Hospital. He was 82.

Born in Wilmington, Del., and raised in Havre de Grace, he was the son of Donald Keith Jobes, an Aberdeen Proving Ground worker, and his wife, Lorelle Evangeline Beauchamp, a stenographer.

According to a family biography, he grew up among decoy carvers. As a 7-year-old, he learned his craft from a carver who lived around the corner, Charles Nelson Barnard. He hand-sanded wooden duck heads and would apprentice with other carvers as he grew older.

He was a 1953 graduate of Havre de Grace High School, where he played varsity baseball and football.

After winning a ribbon in art class for his decoy carving, he became an apprentice worker to Havre de Grace carver R. Madison Mitchell. He initially made 25 cents an hour at the Mitchell shop when he was 10 years old.

Mr. Jobes was also known as a waterman and captain. He skippered research vessels for the states of Maryland and Virginia and operated a federal patrol boat off Aberdeen Proving Ground until he retired in 30 years ago.

Known as Captain Harry, he also had a charter boat service. He took his patrons fishing for rockfish, and hunting for ducks and geese. One of his boats was The Striper, named for striped bass (or rockfish).

He stood in waist-deep water surrounded by decoys on these hunting excursions. He wore a Navy rubber survival suit and accompanied members of the old Baltimore Colts as well as Philadelphia and Baltimore businessmen.

“It was a unique way of hunting on the Susquehanna flats — it’s all shallow water, from 4 inches to 4 feet,” his son, Charles Keith Jobes of Havre de Grace, said.

“My father always answered the phone, ‘Come aboard,’ ” said his son. “It seemed like he was always on the water, hunting and fishing. My dad liked to be in the spotlight. He was a colorful man.”

His son also said: “When he walked in a room, you could hear his deep, gruff voice. He was an independent man and he did things the way he wanted. And yet, he would do anything for you.”

Mr. Jobes made sure his three sons went into the decoy carving business and trained them while they were in elementary school. They all remain carvers and are known as “The Jobes Tradition.”

“He put us in his shop and we’d work after school,” his son said.

In 1993, Mr. Jobes said in a Sun article that decoy-collecting grew in popularity when hunters realized that mass production and synthetic materials took some of the romance out of the sport.

"To handle a wooden decoy and watch it in the water is altogether different than buying a piece of plastic and throwing it overboard," he said.

The article said that the public's eagerness to pay thousands of dollars for wooden decoys baffled the Aberdeen carver, who sold his pieces for $2.50 each in the 1960s.

"I never thought that I was making folk art," he said. "I was just carving decoys."

Mr. Jobes sold his decoys to collectors throughout the country. He had a truck custom-built to accommodate his inventory and drove from Key West, Fla., to Maine and across the country to sales events.

“He did not like to fly,” said his son. “His Maryland license plate said, ‘Capt. HJ.’ ”

His son said his father was a good salesman and appeared on a QVC sales show featuring items from Maryland. He offered a drake mallard decoy for $69.99.

“We sold 650 of them in three and a half minutes,” said his son. “Then they came back and ordered another 900. We were busy for a long time. It took a month and a half to make them.”

Mr. Jobes set up a sales website and he wore a Panama hat at decoy shows. His jacket was embroidered with “Captain Harry Jobes.”

Captain Harry’s decoy production is quite phenomenal. He has made both gunning decoys and ornamental decoys. His decoys are lathe-turned.

Mr. Jobes was a member of the Havre de Grace Elks Lodge, Ducks Unlimited and the Havre de Grace Decoy Museum.

At his request, no funeral will be held.

Survivors include his wife of 16 years, Ruth Virginia Long Ward, a retired Woodward and Lothrop cosmetics department manager; three sons, Harry Robert Jobes Jr., Charles Keith Jobes and Joseph Allen Jobes, all of Havre de Grace; nine grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren. His first wife, Alice Helen Jobes, died in 1991. His second wife, Helen Margaret Williams, died in 2004.

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