July 11, 2002 Jack Wayne Basford, president of V.I. Telephone Corp. from 1972 to 1986, died Wednesday in New Milford, Connecticut, his home for the last eight years, after a five-year battle with cancer. He was 74.
For many years, Basford was a mainstay of the St. Thomas professional, civic and social community. During his 15 years with Vitelco, he oversaw the company's transformation from a small, mediocre entity owned by ITT to the first telephone utility in the Caribbean to have full digital service.
Before joining Vitelco, he was with the Bell System for 21 years. After Atlantic Tele-Network purchased Vitelco in 1987, he retired but remained a consultant to the company.
Basford was more than actively engaged in the V.I. community. The Vitelco building in Charlotte Amalie was named after him. He was honored for his contributions to the United Way, American Red Cross, American Cancer Society and the then-College of the Virgin Islands Board of Overseers. The St. Thomas-St. John Chamber of Commerce named him Man of the Year, and he received special recognition for his work with the V.I. Council of Boy Scouts of America. He also received ITT's Harold S. Geneen Award for Creative Management, named for the high-profile chairman of the board of ITT Corp.
Although the Basfords left the island several years ago, memories of the affable, energetic telephone executive remain as current as yesterday in the minds of his many friends here.
"We knew him in many ways," said Suzanne Robinson, still saddened by the news. "Our children went to Antilles with his children. Our daughter Amy and Jack's son Bobby were good friends." Her husband, Terry Robinson, said, "We knew him for years; he was an outstanding individual in all phases, and he was a well-respected corporate citizen."
Neil Prior, who along with Jeffrey Prosser bought Vitelco from ITT in 1987, expressed sadness and surprise at the news of Basford's death. "He was an excellent manager of Vitelco," Prior, chief executive of ATN, said. "After we took over, he retired, but he stayed on as a consultant for a year or more after that. From a professional point of view, I can tell you he did a good job for Vitelco."
But beyond business expertise, Prior said, "Jack was an outstanding man, a good citizen — he did lots of work in charity causes, like the Humane Society, and he was very active in Rotary."
Basford and his wife, Nancy, were especially active in the Humane Society of St. Thomas, where she almost single-handedly managed the organization's main fund-raiser, the Valentines "Doggie Ball," year after year — but not without her husband's efforts.
"He and Nancy were incredible supporters of the Humane Society," said old friend Mary Gleason, a society board member and sales director at Marriott's Frenchman's Reef Beach Resort, where the ball took place for many years. "Any time we had the ball, he was there from early morning until it was over, doing whatever he could," Gleason recalled. "You'd see him blowing up balloons, anything."
However, she added, "The thing that I remember the most is that he always had his number listed in the phone book. Vitelco was having all kinds of problems then, but you could call him at any time. That always impressed me — it struck me as very brave."
Fellow Rotarian Archie Ogden shared similar memories. "You could call Jack or Jacques Ellison [Vitelco's similarly community-minded marketing executive in the '80s] if your phone was out of order, and they'd ask what was wrong and call somebody to fix it," Ogden said. "We were a much smaller island in those days; that seemed a perfectly normal thing to do," he mused. "These days, you're sure not going to do that."
Ogden said he misses those days and he will miss Basford. "He was a very soft-spoken person with an encouraging smile, really a wonderful guy," he said.
Employees of the former seaplane airline Antilles Airboats had fond memories of Basford. "We used to be very judgmental about our passengers," said one, who declined to be named. "We had our own private rating system on passengers' behavior, which sometimes influenced who got on a flight and who didn't. Mr. Basford always got on."
Basford's son Robert said on Wednesday that his father had been diagnosed with cancer five years ago and given three months to live. His response, Robert said, was that "He went to Europe. And he used to come and visit me in Georgia. He lived his life."
When told of Basford's defying his three-month prognosis, Ogden commented, "He did that by sheer force of will, I know."
Robert Basford said his father was given hours to live when he last went to the hospital but managed to live another 12 days. "We were all right there," he said.
Basford is survived by his wife, Nancy; brother, Bob; sister, Mariann Krueger; four children, John, Robert, Gerald and Catherine B. Howell; six grandchildren, Mike, Michelle, Matt, Jessica, Danielle and Allison; daughters-in-law Dawn, Laurie and Nancy; son in-law Elton Howell; and brothers-in-law Jack Krueger and Bob Chiles.
Robert Basford said his mother has asked that any donations be made to the New Milford Hospital Regional Cancer Center, 21 Elm Street, New Milford CT 06776.
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