Eight Bells: Martin Purcell
Published on February 17th, 2015
It was on the waters of Long Island Sound near his birthplace in Greenwich where he first earned the nickname “Skipper”. Sailing was his life’s passion, and his talents and accomplishments in that arena were formidable.
In his early years, Skip won the US Junior Sailing Championship (Sears Cup) with his future wife was a member of his crew. He also won the US Interscholastic Championship (Mallory Trophy) while skippering for Phillips Academy Andover.
Later on as owner, part-owner, or principal helmsman and tactician, he won the North American One Ton Championship, the J/44 North American Championship, and the New York Forty Class Championship. He was also overall winner of the 1966 Newport to Bermuda Race, the Northern Ocean Racing Championship, and a member of the United States Admiral’s Cup and Onion Patch Trophy Teams.
Skip’s life was also deeply affected by the “seven glorious years” he spent at the University of Virginia. During his time at the College of Arts and Sciences he was Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, President of the IMP Society and President of St. Elmo Hall. He was also a member of Eli Banana, the Raven Society and ODK as well as permanent Secretary of the Class of 1957.
At the Law School he was first in his class in the combined trust and estate and related tax courses and received the American Jurisprudence prize for excellence in wills and trusts. He served a year as student assistant to professor Neill Alford, chairman of the Estate Department, assisting him in the research and editing of his case book that was widely used in American law schools.
As an Alumnus he was co-founder and President of the Virginia Alumni Association of the Palm Beaches, established a Jefferson Scholarship in his family’s name, and was elected to the Lawn Society.
At his death, it was revealed that he was a member of the Seven Society.
During a more than 50-year career as an attorney, he was the partner in charge of the Florida offices of three national law firms, and at his death was president of his own trust and estates firm in Palm Beach.
He was a member of the Bath and Tennis Club in Palm Beach, New York Yacht Club, Cruising Club of America and the Storm Trysail Club. He was formerly a member of Indian Harbor Yacht Club in Greenwich, Connecticut, and American Yacht Club in Rye, New York.
A proper accounting of Skip’s life would be incomplete without mentioning his love and devotion to family. He attended countless horse shows, ballet recitals, soccer, hockey, baseball and lacrosse games with much more enthusiasm than they warranted. His love, loyalty and staunch support for his children knew no limits.
And, of course his nearly life-long relationship and more than 57-year marriage to his wife, Connie, was the cornerstone of everything. They met at age 11 and over the ensuing decades their love and shared experiences forged a rare and wonderful partnership. “Skip and Con” as so many knew them, made an impact that will be remembered always.
Skip was the son of William J. Purcell and Rita Methé Purcell May of Greenwich, Connecticut. He is survived by his wife of 57 years, Constance Neher Purcell; his children, Cynthia Hunter Purcell, Lisa Hollas Purcell Rivera, Son-in-law Peter Rivera and grandsons Chase, Simon and Miles; and William Hunter Purcell, daughter-in-law Evelyn Purcell and granddaughters Gray and Elise. He is also survived by his siblings Judith and husband Stephen Plank, William and wife Holley Purcell, and Tara and husband David Fell.
His force of spirit, sense of humor, and deep affection for good times, close friends, and family will be deeply missed by those who knew and loved him.
A memorial service will be held in Palm Beach at Bethesda-By-The-Sea on Saturday, March 21st. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Rehabilitation Center for Children and Adults in Palm Beach.