The American Lighthouse Foundation’s Keeper of the Light award is designed to honor those individuals and organizations in the national lighthouse community who have contributed in a significant manner to the preservation of America’s lighthouses and their rich heritage.
On April 29, 2018, ALF presented Sally Snowman – Coast Guard keeper of Boston Light, with a Keeper of the Light award during the organization’s annual Gala, which was held at the Nonantum Resort in Kennebunkport, Maine.
Sally Snowman was volunteering at Boston Light for many years as a member of the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary before she was appointed its official keeper. In a 2002 article, she explained why she loved to spend so much time at the lighthouse: “I see it as my soul work. Lighthouses have always had a spiritual meaning for me, like a guiding light for peace and inner guidance.”
Sally was born into a boating family in Weymouth, along Boston’s South Shore, and her parents often took her to the islands of Boston Harbor. She first visited Boston Light with her father when she was 10. She fell in love with the place, never dreaming that she’d be its keeper one day.
After graduating from college, Sally didn’t have the money to buy a boat, so she joined the Coast Guard Auxiliary. Sally also holds a Ph.D. and previously worked as a learning disabilities specialist.
Sally met Jay Thomson during Auxiliary training. Once, when they were in a boat passing Boston Light on Little Brewster Island, Sally remarked that she had always fantasized about getting married there. Jay replied. “Let me know when you want to do it.”
On October 8, 1994, Jay and Sally went out to Little Brewster Island on a friend’s sailboat named True Love. The 22 guests arrived on one sailboat and two powerboats. After the ceremony, the tower was opened for guests to climb.
Sally and Jay’s book, Boston Light: A Historical Perspective (published in 1999), was the culmination of five years of research. With almost 300-pages, it is the most extensive book ever published on America’s first light station. Sally also wrote a children’s book about one of her best friends at Boston Light; Sammy the Boston Lighthouse Dog. And in 2016 Sally and Jay published a beautiful new Images of America book through Arcadia Publishing on Boston Light.
In 1989, the U.S. Coast Guard was planning for Boston Light to be the last lighthouse in the United States to be automated and destaffed. Congress, at the urging of Senator Ted Kennedy, mandated that Boston Light be operated and staffed permanently by the Coast Guard.
The active duty Coast Guard personnel that had been assigned to the island were relocated to meet the needs of Homeland Security in 2003, and Sally Snowman was named the new keeper. She became the first civilian keeper since 1941, and the first woman keeper in the lighthouse’s long history, which stretches back to 1716.
Although U.S. Coast Guard Aids to Navigation Team Boston maintains the light and fog horn at Boston Light, Sally frequently cleans the beautiful second-order Fresnel lens and ensures no fingerprints are present on each of the prisms. One of the most important parts of her job is greeting visitors during tours. Wearing a period dress, she speaks to each group as they assemble in the boathouse.
Sally also oversees the Coast Guard Auxiliary’s Watchstander program, supervising dozens of volunteers who spend shifts on the island helping with maintenance and public tours.
As was pointed out in an article in the Coast Guard Compass (the official blog of the U.S. Coast Guard), for many years the light of a lighthouse was usually the first glimmer of civilization seen by sailors after long ocean voyages, and a lighthouse keeper was often the first person seen after perilous journeys. Sally Snowman embodies that proud legacy.
For her sustained dedication and outstanding achievement at historic Boston Light Station – and for perpetuating our great nation’s time-honored lightkeeping heritage, the American Lighthouse Foundation is proud to present Sally Snowman with a 2018 Keeper of the Light award.