Joseph H. Fontaine Sr., a former port coordinator for International Longshoremen’s Association Local 333 who was also an avid fisherman, died March 24 of pancreatic cancer at Stuart E. Meyer Hospice House in Palm Coast, Florida. The former West Baltimore and Hackensack, New Jersey, resident was 70.
“First off, Joe was cool. He was a tall, lanky guy with a bighearted laugh,” said Quentin Parker, a longtime friend and fishing companion. “I don’t like everybody, but I liked Joe. He was outgoing, friendly, intelligent and well-liked, and he liked everybody from the nastiest to the nicest. It’s a sad place without him.”
Joseph Henry Fontaine, son of Isaac Fontaine, a Western Maryland Railway worker, and his wife, Florence Fontaine, a homemaker, was born and raised in Princess Anne.
He was the great-grandson of Ben Fontaine, who was enslaved as the property of Henry Fontaine, whose last name he took. According to 1823 tax records, he was valued at $40 when he was 9 years old.
Mr. Fontaine’s great-grandfather lived at Normandy, a Somerset County plantation that was established in 1671 and remains in the Fontaine family, one of the oldest continuously owned family farms in the nation.
Ben Fontaine was freed between 1850 and 1860 and died in 1870 a free man, not far from the plantation where he toiled for years, leaving behind his wife, Cresana, and five children, according to a 2014 article in Salisbury’s Daily Times.
Joseph Fontaine was a member of the last class of Somerset High School, an all-Black Somerset County school that closed in 1969, the year of his graduation, due to mandated school integration. The old school building, which was renamed Kiah Hall, is now an integral part of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore’s Princess Anne campus.
Mr. Fontaine attended Morgan State University, where in the 1970s he pursued a degree to become a registered nurse. A few credits shy of graduating from Morgan, he went to work as a longshoreman for ILA Local 333 to care for his family, and he rose through the ranks until becoming the union’s labor coordinator for the Port of Baltimore, a position he led until retiring in 2010.
His wife of many years, Diana Harrington, died in 2006, and three years later, he married the Rev. Dr. M. Frances Manning, pastor of the New Hope Baptist Church in Hackensack, where he lived until 2010, when he moved to Palm Coast to “live the dream,” his wife said.
Mr. Fontaine was a lifelong fisherman and a former member and president of the Baltimore Fishing Club. With other members he traveled to Alaska, Costa Rica and Bermuda to fish.
He was an active member of the Flagler Sport Fishing Club and became the first African American pier attendant at the Flagler Beach Fishing Pier in Flagler Beach, Florida.
“Name a fish and he had either caught it or eaten it,” according to a biographical profile supplied by his wife. “Not only did he have an insatiable appetite for fish, he also enjoyed gaining knowledge in any and everything that he could.”
“We spent many a night in conversation while fishing,” Mr. Parker said. “We discussed everything from politics to religion, and the great thing about Joe was that he could look at both sides of an argument in a discussion.”
In addition to fishing, Mr. Fontaine was an avid reader, a habit that started when he was a young child, his wife said.
“That habit carried him into adulthood and he became one of those people who knew a little about everything,” according to the profile. “More than anything, Joseph had a love for life, enjoying every moment, with little to no regrets. He traveled, learned, loved, and lived life on his own terms ... as a celebration.”
For years, he participated in the National Familial Pancreatic Tumor Registry through the Sol Goldman Pancreatic Cancer Research Center at Johns Hopkins Hospital, where was involved with annual screenings and volunteered in cancer research.
Family members and friends said a favorite expression of Mr. Fontaine’s was “I lived my life and had a good time.”
A memorial service was held April 17 at New Carmel Star Baptist Church in West Baltimore.
In addition to his wife of 12 years, Mr. Fontaine is survived by a son, Joseph H. Fontaine 2nd of Baltimore; two stepsons, Terrance Thompson of Chestertown and Nick Hawkins of Baldwin, New York; two daughters, Leandra Fontaine of Landover and Janice Farrah of New Jersey; a brother, Levi Fontaine of San Mateo, California; a sister, Anna Fontaine of Princess Anne; and eight grandchildren. Another son, Corey Fontaine, died some years ago.