By Doreen Leggett
Peter Baker remembers when Nat Mason wandered into the office of the Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen and asked if they needed an intern.
“The Hook” was operating on a shoestring budget, and Baker, the campaign director, was about 30 years younger than this man who wanted to volunteer.
“He ended up being our CFO – for seven years,” remembers Baker.
Mason’s financial background was enviable. After a few years teaching, and two years in the US Army, he worked for Mellon Bank in Frankfurt, Tokyo and London and then the Arab Bank of Amman in London for more than a quarter century.
Mason had left a banking career and family in London to return to Chatham to take care of his mother, Phyllis in 2002, and wanted to give back to the community he had known since childhood and had great affection for.
“Nat Mason loved Chatham and the people who made Chatham Chatham,” said John Pappalardo, policy director at the time, now chief executive officer. “We were blessed to have him support the fishermen and be part of the Hook Association. We will miss seeing him along the shoreline or at a community forum. Nat was an active participant in all that is Chatham.”
Mason was born June 21, 1947. Raised in Hartford, Conn., he was a lifetime summer resident of Cape Cod. He went to St. Marks School, Dartmouth College and the Amos Tuck School of Business Administration where he earned his MBA. He was a perfect fit for the fledgling non profit.
“Nat rolled with all our weirdness, antics, and cockamamie, individualistic systems for tracking project budgets,” said Mel Sanderson, now the Chief Operating Officer at the Fishermen’s Alliance, then an intern. “It didn’t matter if we used spreadsheets, word documents, or stacks of post-it notes, Nat just smiled and adapted to each of us. He shepherded the organization through those growing-pain years, from often not having enough cash to make payroll to updating the bookkeeping to meeting national foundation tracking and audit requirements. We became a fiscally sound organization with capital assets and a rainy day fund.”
He added his own quirks as well. No one was allowed to keep rubber bands the post office wrapped around mail deliveries; Mason needed them for his rubber band ball. By the time he retired, it was easily four inches in diameter.
He also loved a good party and often made them so.
“Nat would show up with a tray of freshly dug quahogs and a knife, then shuck all the quahogs with a smile until they were gone. His favorite spot at Hookers Ball was behind the raw bar, apron on, knife in hand, smile on face — or the dance floor,” Sanderson recalls.
Nat and his mom Phyllis hosted three early Hookers Balls at their property on Oyster River, welcoming more than 400 people on their lawn.
“What a generous and caring friend he was,” former executive director Paul Parker says. “He adopted us all.”
When the Fishermen’s Alliance was looking for a new, bigger home, Mason was right there.
“Nat was committed to restoring the Captain Harding House, and was a leader in the capital campaign to raise funds for the Fishermen’s Alliance to purchase the restored sea captain’s home,” says Sanderson. “He single handedly raised $25,000 for the ‘Phyllis Mason Room’’ (his mother had passed by this time). The room is filled with images of a laughing and boating Phyllis, also known as Grandma Eelgrass.
Mason himself was very at home on the water. He was a consummate swimmer, the final leg of a six-person relay team that crossed the English Channel in 14 hours and 32 minutes. He was also an avid skier and sailor.
When it was time for him to retire, he stuck around for a few months to teach his replacement and make sure she understood his systems, as well as confirm that she was a good fit for his adopted family.
“He taught me to find joy in simple things — a game of cribbage, a long-running joke, a well-organized column of numbers, and the beauty of Chatham,” adds Sanderson. “Nat, you touched so many of our hearts and you will be greatly missed.”