Bud Winslow was the first lifeguard hired by the Town of Oyster Bay, and he kept protecting swimmers for 68 years.
The Locust Valley resident retired after last summer, and Tuesday the town board honored him with a proclamation for his long service.
Supervisor John Venditto compared Winslow to George Bailey, the hero of the movie "It's a Wonderful Life," who affects countless lives through selfless action. "You think about the number of people that he's impacted, whether they were town residents or people who worked for him, and think about what the world would be like without Buddy Winslow, and it would be pretty sad and depressing," he said.
The 85-year-old Marine Corps veteran was athletic and grew up on town beaches near his summer home in Bayville.
He worked as a lifeguard at the Piping Rock Club in Matinecock the summer he was 16 before landing the town job the next year.
On his first day, he told the town board Tuesday, he asked his supervisor about a lifeguard stand so he could better see the swimmers.
"I said, 'Where is the tower?' because there was no tower," he recalled. His boss replied that the lifeguard station was " 'wherever you put your blanket.' "
Eventually, he got towers, as well as an office and more help.
Winslow kept spending his summers at the town beaches while attending Springfield College in Massachusetts and then becoming an elementary school teacher in Seaford.
Being a lifeguard was a no-brainer. "I grew up on the beaches," he explained. "It was just natural. Plus, I was a physical education teacher and coached football and lacrosse in Seaford, so it worked perfectly to teach in the winter and then be a lifeguard in the summer."
As the town added more lifeguards over the years, Winslow supervised them, remaining in command of what became 76 lifeguards at seven beaches in Bayville, Oyster Bay and Glen Head.
He said he made countless rescues, administered first aid and called in police to make drug arrests.
Asked why he liked being a lifeguard, Winslow replied: "What's not to like? You have great people to work with, you're out in the sun. It's one place where you can enjoy going to work."
Those attractions appealed to other members of his family, too. All four of his children -- Nancy, Tom, Sue and Tracey -- became town lifeguards, as have four grandchildren.
Tom Winslow has been working the beaches for 37 years and is now second in command of the North Shore lifeguards. Nancy Dyer has 35 years on the job.
"We all started when we were 17," said Dyer, who works Centre Island Beach.
Venditto described Bud Winslow as "a very special man. I don't know anyone . . . who has generated more goodwill for the Town of Oyster Bay than Buddy Winslow."