Remembering John A. Vincent By STEPHEN VINCENT Special to the Planet

Friday May 13, 2005

John A. (“Jay”) Vincent, a well-known yachtsman, engineer, environmentalist, family man and Richmond civic leader passed away Wednesday, May 4. He was 93. 

As a leader, Vincent was recognized for mixing his engineer’s inclination for good research with balance and wry humor into public debates over the enhancement and protection of the environment. A modest man, in later years he would confess that at whatever he pursued, either racing a boat or in politics, “I liked to win.” 

The six-acre shoreline “Barbara and Jay Vincent Park” in the Richmond Marina—now within Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front National Historical Park—was created in 1997 by the city to honor his and wife Barbara’s lifelong work and contribution to establishing public access and parks along the shoreline of San Francisco and San Pablo Bays.  

From the age of 12, Vincent was in love with the waterfront. Born in Tupelo, Oklahoma in 1912, his family, uprooted by the recession after World War I, moved first to Fresno in 1921, and then followed the Santa Fe Railroad to Richmond in 1923. The family initially made their home at Ferry Point where his father was the station engineer for the railroad ferry to and from San Francisco. 

The new life on the bay’s edge, where he could freely go crabbing, spear bass, and build and sail makeshift boats, provided many of the directions for the rest of his career. One of the initial members and several times Commodore of the Richmond Yacht Club, Vincent built by hand one of the first Bear Boats on the bay—Pola number 8. In 1939, he guided her and the crew to victory in the 1939 Treasure Island World’s Fair Regatta. The race officially qualified the Bear Boat as a class that would grow during the 1950s to be the largest class on the bay. Vincent, using the small “El Toro” sailboats, also initiated the Yacht Club’s Youth Sailing Program, whose teaching model became emulated at clubs around the world.  

Educated in Richmond schools, Vincent attended the University of California, Berkeley, graduating in 1934 with a B.S. degree in Mechanical and Electrical Engineering. He went to work for Standard Oil’s Research & Development in Richmond where his group developed RPM DELO Special Motor Oil, a cleansing lubricant that enabled U.S. Navy submarines to triple their cruising range during World War II. After the war he transferred to the Product Engineering Department at the company’s corporate headquarters where, for the rest of his professional career, he worked as a trouble-shooter, traveling the coast, then the country and world as an expert at problem solving client needs for lubrication oils.  

On retiring he joined his wife Barbara, a Richmond native and once chair of the city Planning Commission, in the struggle to regain public access to Wild Cat Canyon and the bay shoreline. Unlike Vincent’s childhood at Ferry Point, when practically anyone could fish, boat and swim almost anywhere, by the 1960s public access to Richmond’s 33-mile long shoreline had been reduced to a 60-foot-wide public boat ramp. The rest was owned or zoned by and for industrial use and inaccessible for recreational use by the public.  

Barbara was already a founding member and board director of Save the Bay Association. For the next 30 years, Jay and Barbara, joined by an ever-growing cast, including organizations and individuals, worked to compel Richmond, Contra Costa and Alameda Counties to create parks and trails along the entire East Bay shoreline. Some of these would grow to include East Bay Shoreline Park, Pt. Isabel, Rosie-the-Riveter, Barbara and Jay Vincent, Lucretia W. Edwards, Miller Knox and Ferry Point, Point Molate, East Brother Light House, and Point Pinole parks. 

One of Vincent’s great joys was to work to see the restoration of the fire ravaged Ferry Point, where he once lived, into both a beautiful vista point and public access fishing pier.  

Vincent’s use of his formidable engineering and research skills, combined with patience and humor for working with the political process became legendary. He delighted in working with organizations and city departments where he could further community goals. In celebrating the opening of the Vincent Park, the city manager laughed and stated that Vincent most often came to meetings having accomplished more useful research on a particular issue than any member of his staff. 

Much as with his boat racing career, Vincent enjoyed a good challenge and winning. Once, for example, he used his research of tides and timber materials to successfully preserve the Bay Trail’s flat wooden railroad bridges—across the marshes at Point Isabel north of Golden Gate Fields—against a Regional Park proposal to replace them with elaborate concrete structures. The fierce arguments between “birders, walkers and bikers” over the trail’s design and use fed his sense of humor about human nature.  

Over the years, Vincent served on City of Richmond’s Citizen’s Shoreline Advisory Committee, the board of directors of the YMCA of the East Bay, East Brother Light Station, Save the Richmond Plunge Trust, and Richmond Farmers Market Association. He was a charter member of Richmond Yacht Club, Save the Bay Association, and Trails for Richmond Action Committee. He was a member of Richmond Museum of History and Point Richmond History Association. 

The Regional Oral History Office at Bancroft Library has two recorded Vincent interviews, one about his memories of growing up on the waterfront, and the other about living in Richmond during World War II. San Francisco’s Maritime Museum recorded his history of the start of the Bear Boat Class on the Bay. 

John Vincent is survived by Barbara, his wife of 67 years, brother J.D. Vincent, his children, J. Michael Vincent of Suisun, Stephen A. Vincent of San Francisco, and David F. Vincent of Richmond. His son Christopher preceded him in death. Grandfather of Tracy Ylarregui , Cathleen Ellis, Lucas and Pearl McGee-Vincent, and Alec Gent-Vincent, and great-grandchildren, Ryan, Matthew, Katelin, Brian and Megan.  

A Memorial Service will be held at 2 p.m., Wed., May 18, the Richmond Yacht Club, 351 Brickyard Cove Road, Richmond. In lieu of flowers, donations in Jay Vincent’s honor may be sent to one or more of the following:  

• Save The Bay Association, 350 Frank Ogawa Plaza, Suite 900, Oakland 94612 

• Richmond Plunge Trust, PO Box 70443 Richmond, CA. 94807 

• Richmond Yacht Club Youth Foundation, P.O. Box 70295, Richmond, CA 94807 

• Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94720