Drinks and accommodations on the working Gloucester waterfront for over 40 years.

Ethel Shatford Preston, “mother to many”, dies at 63

Ethel Shatford Preston died at her Haskell Street home in Gloucester on Saturday, October 30, 1999.

After a lifetime of generosity and a burst of national fame, Preston, who worked as a bartender at the Crow's Nest for the past 15 years, lost a six-month battle with cancer. She was 63.

"Ethel was a larger-than-life character," said Crow's Nest owner Gregg Souza, who hired Preston the day after he took over the bar. "This is a real loss, there's a big void here."

For the past several years, Preston has been in the spotlight because of the best-selling book, "The Perfect Storm," which chronicles the final trip of the fishing vessel Andrea Gail. Preston's son, Robert Shatford, was lost during that trip eight years ago just before Halloween. Preston described the book by Sebastian Junger as a "painful but truthful" account of the Andrea Gail. And while she initially expressed reservations about the Warner Brothers movie that followed, she eventually became close friends with many of the cast, particularly Mark Wahlburg, who plays Preston's son, Bobby.

But long before the popularity of the book sent hordes of visitors to the Crow's Nest in search of Preston, her friends, acquaintances, and many fishermen and waterfront workers all prized her for her constant generosity.

Her death is a huge loss for the close-knit Shatford family.

"She was a very loving mother and she really taught us to love each other," said her daughter, Mary Anne Shatford. In addition to Mary Anne, Preston is survived by a daughter, Susan, and sons Ricky, Russell and Brian.

Friends who knew Preston 30 and more years ago remember her days as a buyer for Brown's Department Store. Although she enjoyed a successful retail career, her work always came second to family and friends. She was a baby-sitter whenever a friend needed help, a listener for anyone who had a problem and a cook for anyone who was hungry. Friends would never miss a dinner when Preston cooked her famous mandarin chicken. In more recent years, she took care of the waterfront family of regulars at the Crow's Nest.

"She was sort of like a den mother to everyone here," said Souza. "Besides her own family, there were about 50 other guys in here that called her 'Ma.'" And there was a reason for that affection. Every Christmas, Preston would buy everyone in the Crow's Nest a gift. Anyone who had a problem had a friend and sympathetic ear in Preston. "She saw the best in everyone," said Mary Anne. "You could talk to her about anything and she would never judge you."

Although Preston had been sick since last spring, she would still visit the Crow's Nest on days when she felt well. And when she wasn't able to visit, she was always the first topic of conversation among Crow's Nest regulars.

"Everyone was in love with her," said Mary Anne. "She was selfless to the end."

A memorial service will be held on Wednesday, Nov. 3, in the United Methodist Church.