EAST SULLIVAN — An elderly couple were found dead Sunday outside their East Sullivan farmhouse. State police said Ruth Watson, 71, and Gavin Watson, 91, died Saturday, apparently of hypothermia, after trying to drive down their long, icy driveway in the rain to pick up the mail.
“You’d see them there every afternoon, waiting for the mail,” said Sullivan Selectman Frank Dedmon. “They were awfully good people, real nice people, and very good neighbors.”
Alvah Carter of East Sullivan found the couple a day after they died, when he arrived Sunday afternoon. He and Louis Sutherland Sr. of Sorrento worked as caretakers at the farm, which has dozens of cows and acres of fields that slope down to the shore of Frenchman Bay. The farm is located off Route 1, about half a mile east of Sumner Memorial High School.
State Trooper Carleton Small said it looked as though the car had become stuck on the slick driveway, and the Watsons had tried to make it back to the garage, about a hundred yards away. Ruth Watson was found in the driveway and Small said her husband, Gavin, was found on the floor of the unheated garage, with the door open. They may have died of hypothermia or heart failure.
“It appears he slipped and fell in the garage and had trouble getting up,” said Small. The couple had no relatives in the area, said Small. Police notified the couple’s two sons, who live in Florida and Vermont.
Louis Sutherland Sr., who worked part time as a caretaker on the farm for 30 years, said the Watsons purchased the farmhouse and farm, built in the mid-1800s, when they moved to the area from New York City in the 1960s after Gavin Watson retired from the investment business. Ruth Watson, a former secretary, grew up in the Brewer area, and Gavin Watson knew the area from having spent summers here as a boy.
Sutherland said Gavin Watson was on the board of directors of the Abbe Museum in Bar Harbor, and that the couple had been active in local chapters of the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Republican Party. Ruth Watson had been involved in the town’s historical society.
“[This is] quite a sudden shock,” said Sutherland. He said Gavin Watson had been in fairly good health although he had some difficulty walking, but that Ruth Gavin’s health had declined over the last four or five years. Both had lost their driver’s licenses in recent years.
Nonetheless, Gavin Watson planted and tended a vegetable garden of corn, potatoes, broccoli, tomatoes, peppers and beans, and Ruth Watson, Sutherland recalled, “was an excellent cook” who regularly invited the Sutherlands over for a prime rib Christmas dinner. The couple had completely restored the farmhouse kitchen, adding a fireplace, six-burner stove, and copper dishes hanging from the ceiling.
The Watsons owned a condominium in Naples, Fla., but Sutherland said they hadn’t visited it in recent years, preferring to weather the winter in Maine.