Nantucket Icon Gene Mahon, Beloved Hippie And Social Scene Photographer, Dies At 75
Robert Cocuzzo •
Most knew the late Gene Mahon as the ubiquitous photographer who could be found at virtually every major event on the island to capture the revelry for his popular e-newsletter Mahon About Town. However, for those whose memories stretch farther back, Gene was a man of many other passions and pursuits. Arriving on the island as a long-haired hippie in the spring of 1969, Gene went on to reinvent himself multiple times over the ensuing decades. With his recent passing at the age of seventy-five, Nantucket mourns one of its most cherished characters—a soft-spoken, philosophical gentleman who carried himself with dignity while never losing his free-spirited roots.
Gene Mahon washed ashore as part of a wave of peace-loving flower children in the late sixties and early seventies, but he was also decidedly entrepreneurial. Within five weeks of landing on Nantucket, Gene—who earned a degree from Villanova—wrangled a group of his fellow hippies and started a house painting business. Regarded as oddities in the eyes of islanders and day-trippers alike, Gene got used to tour buses slowing down while tourists snapped photos of him and his bearded, bare-footed painting crew as if they were exotic wildlife.
At the time, he was also snapping his own photos, mostly black and white landscapes of Nantucket. He soon opened a gallery to hang these pieces alongside the works of other local artists he encouraged to contribute. Buying film at the island’s only camera shop, Gene developed a rapport with its owner Charlie Folger. One day, he walked in and Folger threw him the keys. “Forget it, I’m done,” he said. “You run it.” Never one to pass up an opportunity, Gene waltzed behind the counter and took over. He bought the camera shop outright shortly thereafter.
Less than a decade after arriving on the island, with three businesses already up and running, Gene added to his portfolio once again by opening a night club with two other owners in 1978. The Roadhouse became one of the island’s most legendary musical venues, billing world-class jazz artists like Buster Williams, Stan Strickland, and the greatest horn player of all time, Joe Lovano. Famous figures like actor Dustin Hoffman, writer Frank Conroy, and musician Jimmy Buffet, who would often take the stage for impromptu performances, all mingled with Nantucket locals who filled the Roadhouse each night.
Gene’s entrepreneurial ambitions never slowed. Over his fifty years on Nantucket, he opened a record store, a copy center, a production company, a publishing house and a television station. His business ventures were matched with equally dedicated nonprofit work, serving on the boards Nantucket Arts Council, Comedy Festival, Community Foundation, Chamber of Commerce, and others.
Ahead of his time, Gene eventually found a perfect place to pour all his passions when he launched the island’s very first digital newsletter, Mahon About Town. Publishing photos from the top events along with reporting from around the island, he organically grew an online subscriber base of nearly ten thousand active readers, this before the advent of social media. Apart from photography assistants and freelance writers, Mahon About Town was largely a one-man band with Gene playing most of the instruments.
In October of 2020, Gene was diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia. News of his diagnosis spread across the community, which rallied around him to raise more than $150,000 for his care. Gene spent the last years of his life at The Homestead of Nantucket on Upper Main Street, and in his final months he was transferred to a facility off-island for extra care. Lifelong friends visited him until the very end.
“Nantucket has been very kind to me,” Gene once said. “Since coming ashore for the first time in 1969 and deciding within hours that I wanted to make this my home, I’ve done my best to make it a better place to live, joining the hundreds and hundreds of others who have made that same choice...We’ll make it a better place to live.” Those who knew Gene Mahon can attest that he succeeded in that endeavor many times over.
Memorial services for Gene Mahon will be held in the fall.