HAVERHILL | Of all the tales Capt. William "Red" Slavit told of harrowing days at sea and daring river rescues, none were as big as the legend he became in the city of Haverhill.
Capt. Red died yesterday at 86, surrounded by his wife Evelyn and their nine children at the Hannah Duston Heathcare Center where he had lived for the last month.
Capt. Red was the city's harbormaster for more than 25 years, a lifesaver of hundreds, as well as a former two-time mayoral candidate.
Above all else, he was a man who loved the Merrimack River and reminded the city constantly of its mighty power of tourism, beauty and pride.
"Red was Mr. Merrimack River. He loved the river and everything about it," said City Councilor William Ryan. "He was out there promoting the river when it wasn't popular ... Red was an important part of Haverhill and will be sadly missed by everyone."
One of three sons of a Russian immigrant father and a Canadian-born mother, Capt. Red led a life of daring and adventure. He is credited with saving hundreds of lives during his life, including those saved as a member of a Coast Guard helicopter rescue team during World War II.
Nicknamed Capt. Red for the color of his hair, he made a name for himself throughout New England for running trips along the Merrimack River on boats he owned such as The Viking, the Silver Star and the Merrimack Queen. He would entertain his passengers with nautical tales about pirates who raided boats on the river centuries ago.
He once owned the Haverhill Riverside Airport, where Kazmiera Marina is now located. From this airport Capt. Red operated helicopters and test flew airplanes.
In his later years, Capt. Red stayed in the public eye by running for mayor twice against James Fiorentini. His children said he wanted to be mayor to help those who struggled to provide for themselves.