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Eugene Horton, Blue Point fixture, former teacher, dies at 77

Eugene Horton died Sept. 1.

Eugene Horton died Sept. 1.  Credit: Horton Family

Eugene Horton was the teacher former students still fondly remembered generations later, the man folks around Blue Point referred to simply as "Uncle Gene."

He was the man who traveled to 49 of the 50 states (he never made it to Alaska), who set foot on all seven continents, and who seemed to know something about everything, family and friends said.

He loved the history of things, and he knew how to tell a story: Newspaper articles chronicled how he'd traced his own genealogy back 11 generations to one of the first Long Island settlers, Barnabas Horton, who landed in Southold in 1640.

Horton had a Facebook page with more than 1,000 followers, filled with announcements about the start of the autumnal equinox and local blood drives, and "Then and Now" photos of historic places around his beloved Blue Point and Bayport.

He posted old class photos of former students, and he kept teaching them — long after they'd come and gone and he'd retired from teaching social studies to seventh- and eighth-graders in East Moriches. (Which he did in 1997, after 33 years.)

Gene Horton died Sept. 1 at age 77. Survivors include his husband, Erich Haesche of Southold; sister Cathleen "Kit" Horton Loper of Wilbraham, Massachusetts; and brother Geoffrey R. Horton of Sayville. There are plans for his ashes to be interred at both the Blue Point Cemetery and the Presbyterian Church Cemetery in Southold, where the Hortons have those deep, historic roots. The nearby Horton Point Lighthouse was named for the family, built on land surveyed by then-future first President George Washington. 

"He was amazing," Haesche recalled. "He loved to travel, was in China before it was fashionable, went to Russia before it was really open to the Western world. He was a man of learning. . . . But mostly, he was someone who always thought of other people before himself."

As brother-in-law Tom Loper, also is known to Horton's friends as Tim, said: "He was just so humble. This was a really bright guy who had this great education . . . and he just never forgot anything he ever read, especially about Long Island. … He was a great storyteller, just a great storyteller, and people loved to listen to him."

Horton was born in Brooklyn on July 21, 1942, and moved with parents Eugene and Dorothy and family to Blue Point in 1948. He attended old Seton Hall High School (now St. Joseph's College) in Patchogue, graduating in 1960, then earned his bachelor of arts and master's degree at Providence College before returning to teach at East Moriches.

In addition to his worldwide travels, friends and family said, Horton authored five books on Blue Point. He was the grand marshal of the annual Bayport-Blue Point Chamber of Commerce St. Patrick's Parade in 1995, and he started a monthly history column in the local paper, the Bayport-Blue Point Gazette, in 2002.

He was one of the directors of the Blue Point Cemetery Association and was an active member of the Bayport Heritage Historical Society. He was also an honorary member of the Blue Point Fire Department.  

Elected to the Greater Patchogue Historical Society Hall of Fame in 1984, Horton also served for a decade as a trustee of the Bayport-Blue Point Public Library, where in 2015 the local history room was renamed the Gene Horton Local History Room.

He was active in the restoration and preservation of Meadow Croft, the John Ellis Roosevelt summer home, now a museum, on the border of Bayport and Sayville.

"Gene was loved everywhere he went," lifelong Blue Point resident and friend Dennis McCarthy said, noting that fire officials tried to hire Horton to put together a history book at the department for its 100th anniversary in 1990 — and how Horton did so but refused any pay. "He did everything for everybody. He touched everybody. People who haven't been in our area for 50 years still talk about what a great person he was."

Horton gave a walking tour of Blue Point every June 21, the summer solstice, taking a milk crate and a megaphone with him.

"He literally stood on a soapbox, sharing stories about Blue Point," Loper, his brother-in-law, said.  

Haesche recalled how he and Horton met at a historical society meeting and immediately hit it off. Haesche had a historic home in Southold, built in 1653, as well as an old Model T Ford. The Horton home dated to 1875 and he owned a 1916 Maxwell.

The two traveled to Williamsburg and Gettysburg and Washington, D.C., and vacationed in Key West. Haesche said that one snowy December day in 2011 they took the ferry to Connecticut and got married in Mystic, since gay marriage still wasn't legal in New York.

"With him, you could travel anywhere and he knew the history," Haesche said, "but inevitably, he'd also know someone."

Haesche recalled one afternoon outside the White House when a man in a black suit and tie came up to them, and the first thought was that he was a Secret Service agent. Instead, Haesche said, "The man said, 'Excuse me, Mr. Horton?' It was one of his old students."

That love was evident on Horton's Facebook page, where scores of former students shared condolence messages last week, and at the wake at the Raynor & D'Andrea Funeral Home in Bayport, where more than 500 people came to pay respects.

"The best description I can give of him is one word, wonderful," McCarthy said. "Of all the things that could be said of him, the best was from somebody who said simply Gene Horton was wonderful. And he was."

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