James Barrie Gaskill

The island was saddened to learn of the death yesterday of island son James Barrie Gaskill, 74.

Born in Carteret County on April 20, 1943, he was a son of the late Daisy Styron Gaskill and James Lumley Gaskill, Jr.

James Barrie, as he was known, is survived by his wife, Ellen Gaskill; two children, Candy and Morton Gaskill; sister-in-law, Linda Gaskill all of Ocracoke; and a nephew, Joseph Gaskill and wife Stephanie of St. Mary’s, Ga. Along with his parents, he was preceded in death by a brother, Joseph W. Gaskill.

After graduating from the College of the Albemarle, James Barrie received his bachelor’s degree from East Carolina University. He was a teacher at Ocracoke School and later became its principal.

A commercial fisherman on the Pamlico Sound, he also served as a board member for the North Carolina Coastal Federation and the Ocracoke Working Watermen’s Association. In 2013, James Barrie and Gene Ballance shared the NCCF Pelican Award for leadership in restoring coastal habitat.

N.C. State linguistics professor Walt Wolfram, who visits Ocracoke every year and is the authority on the Ocracoke brogue, posted on his Facebook page:  “I knew James Barrie for 26 years, and he was, in all honesty, one of the most intriguing and best people I have EVER known. Brilliant, personable, engaging and generous. He could tell a story and charm anyone. My soul is grieving–but blessed to have known this very special person.”

Islander John Ivey Wells grew up with Gaskill during the 1940s and 50s. Both were members of the Ocracoke Mounted Boy Scout Troop 290, the only one of its kind in the United States.

“As kids, we entertained ourselves by riding horses, playing in the ‘creek’ with homemade boats and clam boxes and games that had been passed down to us,” he said. “I have many fond memories of James Barrie and I will truly miss him.”

Up until last summer, locals and visitors could get fresh shrimp and clams at James Barrie’s “Fat Boys Seafood,” from his truck that was parked in the afternoons beside Albert Styron’s Store and last year on Tom Payne’s front yard.

Many visitors remember his seafood concession.

“Mr. Gaskill, as our family called him, had a genuine warm heart, a beautiful sense of humor and a knack for lively conversation,” said James Grimaldi of Washington, D.C.  “His classic, hand-painted sign on the side of his truck, his genuine local accent and handle-bar mustache told you were meeting an Ocracoke original–the real deal. We will sorely miss him.”

James Barrie picks shrimp from his cooler while his son Morty stands in the truck bed, and one of many satisfied customers. Photo courtesy of Philip Howard

As Philip Howard recounts in his online “Island Journal” blog: “James Barrie Gaskill, or his wife Ellen, is usually there to serve you, and to offer tips about how to prepare your meal. You might even get James Barrie to tell you the story of the Coast Guardsman who thought he’d arrived at the end of the world when he was stationed on the coast of North Carolina.”

If James Barrie was there, you would have a chance to hear the famous Ocracoke “Hoi Toide” brogue. 

He and other island natives are featured in a continuously running video in the Ocracoke Preservation Society museum depicting the brogue.

In this video, you will also hear James Barrie and Rex O’Neal tell the hilarious story about when they carried fresh Ocracoke oysters on a plane to Las Vegas.


In another of Howard’s blog posts:
“About 50 years ago Sam Jones built a “small” house (smaller than the “Castle” which sits across the street) on Silver Lake harbor. Like his other buildings on Ocracoke, the Whittler’s Club, as it was called, was covered in cedar shakes. Sam’s vision was that it would become the gathering place for island men, a place where they could sit on the porch, swap stories, and whittle birds to sell to island visitors.

“I came across a ‘membership card’ for the Whittler’s Club. It was donated by James Barrie Gaskill to the Ocracoke Preservation Society. Sam, of course, had them printed, but I had never seen one. I was particularly amused by the ‘Rules and Restrictions’ printed on the back of the red card.

“The four rules, in reverse order, are:
      4. The preachers of the Methodist Church and the Church of God will pass on all cases of misconduct.
      3. All true story instances are always invited.
      2. The only way a member can lose his membership is by telling smutty jokes.
      1. No one allowed to get drunk except Harry O’Neal.”

Howard’s blog can be viewed here.

In keeping with James Barrie’s wishes, there will be no service at this time.

Memorial contributions in James Barrie Gaskill’s honor may be made to the North Carolina Coastal Federation, 3609 NC Hwy 24, Newport, NC 28570, or the Ocracoke Working Watermen’s Association, PO Box 1165, Ocracoke, NC 27960.

Twiford Funeral Home, Manteo is assisting the family with arrangements. Condolences may be expressed at Twiford Funeral Home here.

James Barrie Gaskill and his friend Gene Ballance prepare bags of oyster shells for their Living Shoreline project at Springer’s Point and Beacon Island in 2013. The two were among 13 people, groups and businesses across North Carolina who received Pelican Awards that year from the North Carolina Coastal Federation, a nonprofit environmental organization, ‘for extraordinary commitment to protecting and preserving our coast.’
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  1. The first time I ever saw James Barrie was actually just a picture of him in the “Our State” magazine. They were featuring an article on oysters. I was a new employee at Beaufort Elementary school during that time. While reading that article along came Ellen Gaskill and she told me that was her husband! I thought from the picture James Barrie had a friendly face and boy did that prove to be true. A couple years later I was going downtown during the winter to watch the flotilla. I called Ellen to see if I could park in her driveway and got James Barrie on the phone. He talked to me as though I was an old friend and said I was more than welcome to park there. Once I arrived he met me outside with a big hug and smile. He decided to join me at the flotilla and as we walked to the event we talked and laughed the whole way. He shared stories with me of times past and running around Beaufort barefoot when he was a child and he described how different things looked and where then. It was evident in that short time I spent with him that I was in the presence of a beautiful soul. He was kind, warm, welcoming, clever and sincere. I won’t ever forget the experience of spending time with him. My prayers are with Ellen, Candy, Morty and all his family and friends. I know he will be greatly missed.

  2. Oh what a loss. We always looked forward to talking to him when we bought seafood at his truck. He will be greatly missed. Our condolences go out to his family and friends.

  3. This really is just one of the saddest pieces of news I have heard in a long time. Thoughts and blessings to his family.
    He always made me feel at home on the island.

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