- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 22, 2004

NORFOLK — Rita Hutton is getting closer to her goal of building a place where relatives of those who died while working on Virginia’s waters can gather to remember.

Land has been donated. A model of the design — a boy wearing overalls and standing next to a pair of adult-size boots, with a lighthouse in the background — has been created.

Now, Mrs. Hutton and the nonprofit group she founded, Friends of Virginia Waterman’s Memorial on the Eastern Shore, are trying to raise more than $200,000 to build and maintain the memorial on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, a peninsula separating the Chesapeake Bay from the Atlantic Ocean.

They’ve got a good start: A woman who, like Mrs. Hutton, lost a fisherman son, donated $5,000 before she died last year. The group also has begun sending out solicitation letters, mostly to businesses.

The group is gathering names to be listed on a wall of granite at the memorial site. They have about 70 names, according to the group’s Web site (www.virginiaslostatsea.org/index.htm).

“These guys need a lot of recognition. It if wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t have our seafood the way we’re getting it now,” Mrs. Hutton, 73, said in a phone interview from her home in Oyster, a small fishing village.

The memorial is to be built on a 20-by-40-foot plot overlooking the harbor in Oyster. Northampton County is letting the group use the land for free under a 50-year easement, Mrs. Hutton said.

Last year, the group held a design contest for students from schools statewide. The winner was Elizabeth Weir, then an 11th-grader at Great Bridge High School in Chesapeake. She submitted a pencil drawing of a boy standing next to a pair of empty boots.

That “was what the story is all about,” Mrs. Hutton said. “It’s who these men left behind, that little boy, that child.”

The design has been expanded to include a lighthouse with a perpetual light, walkways and meditation benches. The wall of names will stand on the opposite end of the grounds.

The monument will be for watermen, or commercial fishermen, and anyone else who dies while working on the water, including tugboat operators, rescuers and divers.

Danny McReady, who runs the group’s Web site, became involved with the group in part because his wife’s brother died while working on the water more than 30 years ago.

“We have memorials to honor policemen and our firemen, and the Vietnam Memorial and recently the World War II Memorial,” said Mr. McCready, the former town manager on Tangier Island, off the Eastern Shore. “Since so many [watermen] in Virginia have actually lost their lives, we feel they should be honored.”

Mrs. Hutton has been leading this project for several years, spurred on by her son’s death in a clam-boat accident in New Jersey in 1992. Michael Hutton’s body was never found, but his mother said she got some comfort from having his name on a fishermen’s memorial in New Jersey. That’s why she wants to establish a monument in Virginia, to give others mourning the lost at sea a place to reflect and pray.

Her son’s name will not be on the Virginia memorial.

“I’m not doing it for myself,” Mrs. Hutton said of the project. “I’m doing it for the whole state of Virginia.”

“I have not accepted my son’s death as of today,” she said. “I know how hard it is. If these mothers and fathers and children can come to a place and put flowers for holidays and talk to them, I feel that my son did not die in vain.”

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