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Jul 21, 2010 1:43 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Robert Morgan, former mayor of Westhampton Beach, dies at 75

Jul 21, 2010 1:43 PM

Patrons used to get much more than just dinner and drinks if they stopped by the Mexican Hut or Morgan’s White Cap Bar, both owned by former Westhampton Beach Mayor Robert Morgan Jr.

At the restaurant on Old Riverhead Road, which Mr. Morgan purchased in 1995 and also sold flowers from, a piano would be rolled out after dinner so he could play and sing for diners, according to Gary Nesbitt, Mr. Morgan’s partner of 40 years.

“He loved to cook,” Mr. Nesbitt said, “and he came out from behind the kitchen counter to do a few songs for his patrons.”

At his White Cap bar on Dune Road, which was located in what is now West Hampton Dunes Village before being destroyed by storms in the 1990s, Mr. Morgan would often put on a song-and-dance routine while wearing a top hat and tails, according to current Westhampton Beach Mayor Conrad Teller.

“It was the funniest place you ever saw in your life,” Mayor Teller said with a laugh while recalling the glory days of the bar, which opened in the 1950s. “He had a lively bar.”

Mr. Morgan, who also owned the Morgan House and served as the mayor of Westhampton Beach from 1984 to 1986—arguably two of the more tumultuous years in recent village history—died at St. Francis Hospital in Roslyn on Wednesday, July 14. He was 75.

“He liked living in a small town and knowing the people that lived here,” said Mr. Nesbitt, who also lives in Westhampton Beach and owns Westhampton Dog Grooming on Oak Street in the village.

Mr. Morgan’s two-year mayoral tenure—he made several bids for public office, but won only once—was fairly contentious because he often got into disputes with his colleagues, said Michael Pitcher, the former editor of The Southampton Press Western Edition, which was previously known as The Hampton Chronicle-News. The mayor once stormed out of a work session, Mr. Pitcher said, because board members would not authorize the $300 he needed to buy gold-colored “mayor” stickers.

“He seemed to have a talent for getting himself involved in disputes,” Mr. Pitcher said, recalling Mr. Morgan’s run-ins with his fellow board members and former Westhampton Beach Police Chief Jim Doyle. “It was a very contentious time.”

Westhampton Beach Planning Board Chairman Victor Levy, who served on the Village Board during Mr. Morgan’s tenure, said that he and the former mayor didn’t always see eye-to-eye. In fact, Mr. Levy said he once pulled the plug on Mr. Morgan’s projector when he was making a presentation. Regardless, the two men maintained a solid working relationship.

“Considering the fact that we had some public fights, Bob and I always talked,” Mr. Levy said. “And we always had a pretty good relationship. He had the interests of the village at heart.”

The former mayor, who many lovingly described as “flamboyant,” was also known for his fun side, making sure that lemonade and cookies were served at board meetings. Some also pointed to Mr. Morgan’s custom-made “mayoral medallion”—a solid gold medallion 6 inches in diameter and attached to a white satin ribbon—as an example of his lighthearted nature. The medallion was hanging from Mr. Morgan’s neck during his wake services this week.

At one point, there were discussions about making a sitcom based on Mr. Morgan’s tenure as mayor, though those plans never materialized, Mr. Pitcher added. “He was absolutely the most entertaining mayor that Westhampton Beach has ever had,” he said. “Bob was, if anything, a showman. He never passed up an opportunity to break into song.”

Mr. Morgan served as mayor at a time when downtown Westhampton Beach, anchored by Club Marakesh, was a popular destination for those looking to go clubbing in the Hamptons. Most agree that the seeds of the village’s transformation from a party town to a family destination were planted in 1996, following the near fatal beating of a Riverhead man during a racially motivated attack.

Mr. Morgan ran for mayor a few times after he lost his reelection bid to Arma “Ham” Andon in 1986 mounting his most recent campaign in 2004, when he was defeated by Robert Strebel. Mr. Morgan came up just 30 votes short.

Though his tenure was tumultuous at times, and humorous at others, Mr. Morgan left his mark on the village he called home for almost half a century. The tree planters in front of the Westhampton Beach Post Office and the decorative lights that line Main Street were both his idea, according to Mr. Levy.

Mr. Pitcher said that Mr. Morgan always received the support of “little old ladies” because he liked planting flowers around the village and making things beautiful. “They loved him,” Mr. Pitcher said.

“Bob was very much a visionary,” Mr. Levy said, noting that all of Mr. Morgan’s properties, including his restaurant and bar, were kept beautifully manicured.

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Bob was his own man, whose agenda as mayor was, ironically, unfriendly to the mostly quiet, tennis-playing weekend group houses in the village that were linked to the erstwhile SandBar Beach Club. I say "ironically" because he welcomed our business at Morgan's Whitecap. Would see him around the village periodically, most recently this past spring as he quietly was advising a local restauranteur. In the main, a nice man.
By colonelshousealum (11), westhampton beach on Jul 15, 10 5:36 PM
Wow..what can I say Bob? You are one of a kind! You'll be missed dearly by my family and I. In your Hawaiian shirts driving those damned Jeep pickup trucks! We love you and we'll NEVER forget you! Rest in Peace...
By Montesa (1), on Jul 15, 10 6:59 PM
a True Flower Child who Had Enthusiasm and a Great Love of WHB...We Will Miss you Bob.....The village is stil beautiful because of you!!!!
By Quogonian (14), Quogue on Jul 17, 10 7:57 AM
A good deal of the Main Street beauty and certainly the Village Green as we see it today came about because of Bob Morgan's tenacious devotion to making this community pleasing to the eye, attractive to residents and firsttime visitors alike. He paid a lot of the expenses to institute new flowers, trees and bushes out of his own pocket. He loved WHB and the village is the better for his having selflessly devoted himself to making it a better community -- as a volunteer and as an elected. We shall ...more
By JimmyKBond (156), Hampton Bays on Jul 23, 10 4:16 PM
A very nice and caring man who made Westhampton Beach as mayor a Better town. Gave the town some real glamour in his tenure.
By 1percent (52), Quogue on Jul 28, 10 8:05 PM