PORTSMOUTH — After George Augustus "Buzzy" Dodge III died July 4, his obituary reported he had smoke-jumped in Alaska, salvaged a B-52 wreck from a Maine mountain, worked as a research scientist and restored many old Portsmouth homes with hand tools and historic accuracy.
Dodge's obituary noted his cause of death as cancer complications, though "some say it was stubbornness." No services were announced, but his family promised, "a wild party sometime somewhere."
Then, last week, flyers went up on the Sheafe Street carriage house he restored with his wife Erica, where they last lived together as a couple about to celebrate their 49th anniversary.
"Celebrating the life of Buzzy Dodge, a Tribute Party," the flyers invite. "Sheafe Street will be closed to vehicle traffic (Aug. 18) during our celebration so we can mingle and meet friends, neighbors and people who knew, respected and loved Buzzy. It will be a time to celebrate his rich, well-lived life and reminisce and learn more about this remarkable man who made such an enormous mark on this world."
For those who didn't know Buzzy, longtime friend Clare Kittredge informs, "He was the soul of old Portsmouth."
"He and his wife Erica restored half the city with their bare hands," she said. "Authentic, real, shirt-off-your-back friend, curmudgeon with a heart of gold."
Erica Dodge described Buzzy as her traveling companion and life partner, with whom she restored many Portsmouth homes that began dilapidated and were completed as treasures. She said "no one knows" how Buzzy got his nickname and explained in his obituary why he always looked like he had a sunburn.
"Insatiably curious growing up, Buzzy once tied a match to a fishing line and lowered it into an old empty underground gas tank to see what would happen."
"Kaboom," Dodge said last week. "The fumes exploded and burned the skin on his face."
Buzzy was frugal, she said, so they reclaimed parts of homes demolished during the city's urban renewal, "which we were against."
"We were quite the recyclers," she said, "before recycling became popular."
Dodge said her husband bought their first Portsmouth home for $4,400 the year they were married. They had their wedding party there without electricity and a pull-chain water closet in the basement.
"We had candlelight and chamber music," she said about her marriage to Buzzy, who she met at the Theater-by-the-Sea, before he went to work as a Boston chemist.
Dodge said Buzzy didn't want to follow in his father's footsteps as a doctor, they bought their second Portsmouth home to restore a year into their marriage and "it seemed like the natural thing to keep going."
They bought four Portsmouth homes during their marriage, one for $1,400, that they lived in while they used old world techniques to bring them back to life. Dodge said her husband restored a couple dozen other Portsmouth houses for clients and was hired by museums for restoration projects. The couple is credited with restoring the Capt. Daniel Fernald House on Manning Street, put their own hair in wall plaster and were known for repointing brick walls with their handmade lime mortar.
She said they learned techniques from craftspeople around the world and Buzzy studied restoration at the public library, or the Portsmouth Athenaeum, where he was a proprietor. Buzzy rebuilt the cupola on the Old South Meeting House (once the Children's Museum), hand built an impossible-looking floating staircase and restored antique pediments by hand.
"He was very frugal, but never scrimped on quality," Dodge said, adding her husband "helped a lot of people" with the restoration of their own homes.
Kittredge wrote an article for "Seacoast Woman" about the couple's restoration projects in 1982 when they were restoring their sixth Portsmouth house. She quoted Buzzy saying, "Modern counterparts of mortise chisels, tenon saws, molding planes and panel raisers can't be found. And who wants to spend the day in front of some howling machine? A machine is for making thousands of units all the same. If you're making one door or one piece of molding, no machine can compete with the old hand tools."
His wife said last week, "If you're going to restore a house, you have to use the tools that made it."
In the Sheafe Street carriage house, the couple repointed the brick exterior, installed a cement post in case a car ever hits it and removed the ceiling to expose antique beams. They deepened the basement, one 5-gallon bucket of dirt at a time, making more room to reinforce beams to support an auto garage where carriages used to go. While digging out the basement floor, Dodge said, they found a midden filled with pottery, glass and an intact Japanese teapot.
In one bay of the carriage house, she's displayed photos of Buzzy for all to see during the Aug. 18 celebration, from 6 to 9 p.m., with a rain date of the following day.
"Bring only a happy face and anyone who might have known Buzzy, or just wants to come along and learn about his extraordinary life and celebrate with us all," her fliers invite. "Kids welcome."