Capt. Levin F. "Buddy" Harrison III, the legendary Chesapeake Bay charter boat captain and owner of Harrison's Chesapeake House who called himself the "Boss Hogg of Tilghman island," died Wednesday at the University of Maryland Medical Center of cancer. He was 80.
"Capt. Buddy cast a wide net and caught many blessings, " said Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a frequent fishing companion, in a statement.
"His life is the story of the Eastern Shore," Mikulski said. "He taught me plenty about that life — the hard work, long hours, depending on the whims of Mother Nature in all kinds of weather. Buddy provided good jobs for people in his family's 140-year-old business. He was at the helm of the nation's privately owned sportfishing fleet and a first-rate inn and restaurant."
"Buddy was certainly the patriarch of Tilghman Island," said Marty Gary, a former Department of Natural Resources biologist, who is executive director of the Potomac River Fisheries Commission. "He was always very easy to talk to and never dismissed you, but he commanded respect. He was just a good all around person."
Levin Fulker Harrison III was born on Tilghman Island and raised in the village of Bar Neck. He was the son of Levin Fulker "Capt. Lev" Harrison Jr., who owned Harrison's Chesapeake House, Harrison Oyster Co. and Harrison Sport Fishing, a charter-boat firm, and Alice Garvin Harrison, matriarch of Harrison's Chesapeake House.
After graduating in 1952 from St. Michaels High School, Captain Harrison enrolled at the University of Maryland, College Park, where he received a degree in business and public administration, and played baseball.
In 1957, he married the former Roberta Katherine "Bobbie" Lambdin, and the couple returned to Tilghman Island where they joined the family business. The couple purchased their first charter boat, the LevRonSon, then a second boat, the Captain Lev.
Following his father's death in 1978, Captain Harrison and his wife took over operation of the family businesses, including the charter boat business that had been founded in 1928.
"He was a charter boat captain to the core. And as a fisherman, he was incredibly knowledgeable of where the fish were gathered and how to catch them, all the while entertaining those aboard his boat with his stories. That type of charter boat captain doesn't really exist anymore," said Mr. Gary.
"He related well to his clientele," said Mr. Gary. "He was the perfect blend of skill and knowledge, and if you had an off day when it came to the fishing, you'd come back and still say you had a great time."
Captain Harrison took out presidents, governors, senators, congressman and sports figures, as well as ordinary people who looked forward to a day on the bay from Dogwood Harbor off the Choptank River.
Captain Harrison was also known for his annual invitation-only event at the opening of the fishing season. "He wanted people that went out with him or ate in the restaurant to be happy," his son said.
Captain Harrison's center of operations was his 65-foot Capt. Buddy. His favorite game fish was the bluefish — defined by its celebrated gluttony.
"Pound for pound, there isn't a more fighting fish you can get on the line. They fight you right until you get them in the can," he told The Baltimore Sun in a 1980 article. "You pull them in, and on the way by another hook they'll take that one too. Any other fish that gets a hook in its mouth isn't worried about something to eat."
He was just as enthusiastic when it came to what fare graced the tables of the family's inn, where meals were served family-style.
"We serve all bay seafood, and we have a secret recipe for oysters stuffed with crabmeat," he told The Evening Sun in 1980. "And you won't find a baked potato nor a tossed salad in our place. But we have five home-cooked vegetables with every meal."
"Capt. Buddy shared with me the extraordinary hospitality of the people of the Eastern Shore," said Sen. Mikulski in the statement. "Together with his beloved Bobbie, at Harrison's Chesapeake House, I ate the best crabs, oysters and stewed tomatoes, almost as good as my mother's."
In 1986, Captain Harrison and his family opened Harrison's Pier Five in Baltimore's Inner Harbor, which was graced by the old 7-foot Knoll lighthouse that stood next to the restaurant and hotel.
The Morning Sun
"He established the Harrison's Chesapeake House Scholarship Fund to give his workers who were interested in going into the hospitality business some help," his son said.
"He always liked helping people, like the oysterman who couldn't pay, so he loaned them money. If someone was separated and had no where to go, he gave them a room," he said. "If someone was hungry, he fed them."
After being judge-convicted in 2006 of fish and goose poaching, Captain Harrison surrendered his charter boat license and guide license, reported The Sun at the time.
Yet he was still working and had not retired at his death, his son said. His wife died in 2012.
Captain Harrison was a member of Tilghman United Methodist Church, 5731 Tilghman Island Road, where funeral services will be held at 2 p.m. Oct. 28.
In addition to his son, he is survived by another son, Charles R. "Chuck" Harrison of Timonium; seven grandchildren; and a great-grandson.