John Haessler, father, husband and co-founder of the Seafood Shop in Wainscott, lost his battle with cancer on Friday at the age of 68.
Mr. Haessler, who was born and raised in East Hampton, opened up the shop on Montauk Highway in 1972 with longtime friend Robert Wilford, but sold the store in 2000 to Colin Mather, another close friend. Mr. Mather still owns the store today.
“I started working for John when I was 17,” said Mr. Mather, “He took me under his wing, and from that point on he kept me on the straight and narrow, and did it with a lot of love and care.”
More of a mentor than a boss, Mr. Haessler was known for instilling a work ethic and moral compass in his employees and co-workers. “People flocked toward him,” said Mr. Mather.
Described as quiet but strong, Mr. Haessler had the ability to capture the interest of those who surrounded him, which dated back to his days as a teacher at East Hampton Middle School, said his wife, Polly Haessler.
“He had this ability, like a silent strength,” said Ms. Haessler, who met him during her time teaching at John Marshall Elementary School in the early 1970s. “Every kid wanted to be in his class, and with our own kids, too, he had this empathetic kindness.”
The Haesslers were married in 1976 and had two children, Stacey in 1980 and Lee in 1982.
“He was an outstanding father,” said Ms. Haessler. “Both of my kids learned their work ethic from John. Once you joined a sports team, you had a commitment for the season. Jobs were the same way. He always saw things through to the end.”
Ms. Haessler said her husband came to every one of their kids’ sports games and was always their biggest fan. “He was there. Always, he was there for everything,” she said.
Mr. Mather said Mr. Haessler was an extremely dedicated, hard-working person in both his career and his personal life. “John worked harder than anyone I know,” he said. “But he also was never a boastful man, and that was one of his most attractive features. A lot of people do a lot of chest beating, and he wasn’t one of those people.”
After his retirement in 2000, Mr. Haessler spent most of his days on the golf course in Sarasota, Florida. “He had a wonderful, great 14 years of retirement down there,” Ms. Haessler said. “For John, who loved East Hampton more than anything, for him to find somewhere else he really loved and be able to play golf was so good for him.
“He’d drop the ball maybe 200 yards, but he’d be out on the green for hours,” said Mr. Mather. “It was this steady, even force, and that’s the way John lived his life. Steady as a compass.”
Memorial donations may be made out to East End Hospice, P.O. Box 1048, Westhampton Beach, NY 11978. A memorial service will be held in the spring.