Family, friends remember record-breaking sailor, publisher, entrepreneur Dodge Morgan

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HARPSWELL — A businessman and publisher who broke a record sailing solo non-stop around the world and spent his final years on Snow Island died Sept. 14 in Boston from complications during cancer surgery.

Dodge D. Morgan, 78, had a career in journalism that included working as a reporter in Alaska and owning two Maine weekly newspapers.

Morgan, who died at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, was remembered last week by his son, Hoyt D. Morgan of New York City, as a man who expected great things, but also provided the love, mentoring and resources necessary to achieve them.

“He was the toughest and strongest man I have ever met, and anyone I know has ever met, but he was the most caring, too,” Hoyt Morgan said in an e-mail. He called his father “an overpowering positive presence” in his life and the lives of many others, including his sister, Dodge Morgan’s other child, Kimberley Promise Morgan.

“He loved Kimberley Promise and me so much and we knew it every second of every day,” Hoyt Morgan said.

At the time of his death, Morgan was engaged to Mary Beth Teas. His former wife of about 30 years, Cape Elizabeth resident Manny Morgan, said last week that she had remained good friends with the man. She called him “a wonderful person, energetic, enthusiastic, generous and irreverent.”

Born in 1932 in Malden, Mass., Morgan excelled in sports at Governor Dummer Academy and attended the University of New Hampshire before joining the U.S. Air Force, where he earned the rank of first lieutenant and served as a fighter pilot for five years. He returned to college in 1957 and graduated magna cum laude from the Boston University School of Journalism.

Morgan’s journalism career took him to Alaska to work as a reporter at the Anchorage Daily News. While in Alaska he founded a public relations, advertising and lobbying agency.

Soon after he purchased a schooner and embarked from Cape Cod on a two-year voyage that took him to Maine, the Caribbean, South America, the Society Islands, Hawaii and north to Alaska.

Morgan returned to Massachusetts and served as a marketing manager and division head in electronics at Worcester Controls Group. He then founded Controlonics Corp., which manufactured communications products. The company grew from three people in a garage to a company with 355 employees that generated $40 million in revenue before it was sold to Dynatech Corp. in 1984.

It was then that Morgan set his sights on a vessel that would take him around the world. Ted Hood, who had sailed in the America’s Cup, designed a 60-foot cutter called “American Promise” for Morgan. Manny Morgan, who was married to Dodge at the time he circumnavigated the globe, said he wasn’t trying to set a record, but that “when it turned out it looked like he was going to, that was exciting, too.”

Morgan sailed more than 26,000 miles between Nov. 12, 1985, and April 11, 1986, and he broke the 1971 record of Chay Blyth of England without stopping for anything, including food or water, or assistance from another vessel.

Manny Morgan said “it was exciting and scary” during her then-husband’s 150-day, 1-hour, 6-minute expedition. “And most joyous when you saw that white sail come over the horizon in Bermuda,” where Morgan began and concluded the journey.

Morgan broke 11 world records, recognized not just for his speed in circling the globe, but also being the first American to accomplish the feat. Logs and records from his voyage are available to the public at the Maine Maritime Museum. He wrote “The Voyage of American Promise,” about the journey. A documentary film, “Around Alone,” was shown on PBS and can be found on DVD.

In later years Morgan returned to his journalistic roots; he owned two alternative Maine newspapers, The Casco Bay Weekly and The Maine Times. He also helped in 1986 to found VXI Corp., a communications headset company based in Rollingsford, N.H., and served as its chairman.

Anna Ginn, who was vice president for corporate planning at Controlonics, and later publisher of The Maine Times in the late 1980s, said Morgan invested in that newspaper “because he had such a strong belief in (founder and editor) Peter Cox, and in the kind of journalism that Maine Times was doing, and the importance of Maine people having a source of information that had … both the integrity and the investigative outlook that The Maine Times had.”

Monte Paulsen, who co-founded The Casco Bay Weekly in the late 1980s and served mostly as its editor, called Morgan an “angel owner,” noting that “he came in, he believed in the mission, he believed in editorial independence, he provided a reasonable amount of funding coupled with firm expectations … and some great management advice. Looking back on it, I really cherish the few years we worked together.”

Paulsen lived for much of that time on a boat at DiMillo’s marina in Portland, where Morgan kept a runabout. The two men would often run into each other, but Morgan talked as much about sailing and the coast as he did about business, Paulsen said.

“Several times I went sailing with him,” Paulsen recalled in a telephone interview from his home in Vancouver, B.C. “He used to have a wonderful old wooden schooner. I just loved sailing on it. … Several times we went for sails up the coast together, and just spent a night somewhere.”

While his colleagues figured the two men were talking business, Paulsen said, “most of the time we were talking about fish, or women, or beer, or life on the coast. … He had an interest in a lot of things.”

Their friendship revolved around trust at the newspaper, and a shared love of sailing and the coast.

“He was a great owner, he was a good friend,” Paulsen said. “And from my perspective, he was a little bit of an inspiration just as a way to live life more authentically and do business more simply.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net.

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Dodge D. Morgan, right, with daughter Kimberly Promise Morgan and son Hoyt David Morgan.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.