By Ron Hayes
BRINY BREEZES — His name was William, but friends called him “Bill.” Fellow sailors called him “Captain.” Patients called him “Doc.” And come December, children called him “Santa."
Dr. William R. Tolford was a big man with a long white beard who donned a red suit for the town's annual Christmas party, then rejoiced in challenging young doubters to pull his beard. When the beard proved real, the children were reassured that Santa Claus must be, too.
Dr. Tolford, an optometrist whose family has been part of the town for half a century, died Oct.11 at his summer home in Falmouth, Maine. He was 84 and had suffered from heart disease. Born June 1, 1924, in Portland, Maine, Dr. Tolford first discovered Briny Breezes when his parents, Dr. Ronald and Margaret Tolford, bought a home on Hibiscus Drive. In the 1970s, he purchased his own place on Juniper Drive. When his parents passed on, Dr. Tolford inherited their home and passed his along to his daughter, Nancy Aceto. A regular winter resident since retiring in the early 1980s, Dr. Tolford threw himself into the life of the community.
In addition to serving on the town’s board of directors, he initiated pizza parties to encourage neighbors to be more neighborly, an idea that spread through the town.
Later, Dr. Tolford brought a taste of Down East down to Florida by establishing annual lobster parties, with fresh lobsters flown from Maine for the occasion. Ticket sales reached about 250, with profits going to the town’s volunteer “Kitchen Crew.” A member of the Portland Toastmasters Club, he was often master of ceremonies at the town’s Curtain Raisers Club and participated in the skits.
Dr. Tolford’s lives in both Maine and Florida were linked by a lifelong love of the sea. From deep-sea fishing in the Casco Bay Tuna Tournament, he went on to develop a passion for tall ships that took him on transatlantic cruises in 1971 and the Bicentennial Tall Ships races from Bermuda to New York in 1976. In the winter months, he cruised the Bahamas and Caribbean.
“He was a wonderful, generous, caring, kind, big man with a booming voice,” said his daughter. “And he loved Briny Breezes.”
Ruth Watt Tolford, his wife of nearly 40 years, passed away in 2002. In addition to his daughter, Dr. Tolford is survived by his son, Timothy; a granddaughter, Sarah Tolford Selby; a grandson, Christopher William Tolford, all of Falmouth; a sister, Rhoda Tolford Stone of Sarasota; and his close friend and confidante, Nancy Boczon of Briny Breezes.
A memorial service for local friends will be held at a later date. Donations in Dr. Tolford’s name may be made to any charity of the donor’s choosing.