“It was never about the money,” his son Preston told me. “It was always about doing the best job possible.”

We were talking about a carpentry detail in the elegant bar and wine cellar Preston’s father, Vince Jolliver, had made for an Orient client — things not everyone notices. Vince was like the Renaissance artist who decorated the underside of a church altar because “God could see.” 

I met Vince nearly 18 years ago when he and my neighbor Dennis came to my husband and my Greenport property the night before the groundbreaking. Although that ground was pretty well-broken: There was only a crater where our historic house had been for 180 years until it exploded on Valentine’s Day from a propane leak. Long-time readers of The Suffolk Times may remember the front page photos of Greenport’s bravest kneeling in the snow fighting the conflagration that followed.

Dennis showed up at the ER that afternoon to tell Ron and me not only that we could have dinner and sleep at his home that Valentine’s Day — but that he would build us a new house. We didn’t know then that this meant Vince would be involved at every step.

Eight months later on that warm October evening, Vince set up his tripod and surveying tool in the driveway as Dennis rolled out the plans drawn up by our neighbor Frank who became the architect for the rebuilding. Vince and Dennis worked in quiet harmony in the dusk, exchanging thumbs up, pounding stakes and winding yellow strings around them to outline the new house’s footprint — nearly identical to the old house’s footprint.

Everything would be done on site by hand — with the help of power tools, of course. “Beading” was routed into baseboards and trim to give them depth. Hand-routed cove and crown detail were part of the elaborate yet classic interior door and window trim. Although that same four-inch-wide molding created a problem on the landing near the terrace door where the banister’s handrail was going to collide with the door trim.

“Vince will have to do some creative detailing,” Dennis said.

Later Vince showed us his “workaround” with a shy smile: The molding detoured around the handrail in a kind of elfin door frame. The quirky inventiveness delighted us that day — as it does today. To be clear, these master craftsmen had bigger fish to fry. They never boasted, but we learned that they built or were building the homes of a coterie of architectural and artistic luminaries — from the designer of international art museums to a world-famous sculptor.

Vince also helped to build the Greenport skate park, a neighbor’s second-story cat door and her tiny but elegant sports car garage. “His hands are all over Greenport,” Preston said.

Two summers back, the risers in the wooden front steps of our new old house showed weather damage. Vince and Dennis wanted to rebuild rather than repair. Ron and I got to witness up close their camaraderie, care, and finesse as master craftsmen. It would be Vince’s last project for us — he was already having health concerns. Still, the news that he’d died at his home on Feb. 3 deeply shocked all of his friends.

The new steps and balusters are beautiful. Whenever we see the little caps atop the newels, we remember how Vince’s work mirrored his quality and integrity as a human being. His quiet, gentle soul will be missed, but his spirit and genius live on in our house as well as so many others on the North Fork.

Perfectionism and caring too much can be a liability in our profit-oriented world. But the beauty of the things that Vince made, that love for and his masterful use of his materials shine through his work to embody the best of American craftsmanship and what’s best about America, too.

Lorraine Kreahling has been a regular contributor to The New York Times. She lives in Greenport.

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