David B. Stone; helped found N.E. Aquarium

David B. Stone (above) and Henry Lyman spent a decade fund-raising and planning before the aquarium opened. David B. Stone (above) and Henry Lyman spent a decade fund-raising and planning before the aquarium opened. (New England Aquarium/ 1969)
By J.M. Lawrence
Globe Correspondent / April 28, 2010

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In the late 1950s, David B. Stone envisioned a revolutionary waterfront in Boston, where children could learn about marine conservation and new businesses would replace crumbling piers.

Mr. Stone, principal founder of the New England Aquarium and longtime leader of the investment firm North American Management Corp., saw his dreams realized in 1969 when the aquarium opened and sparked redevelopment of the area.

He died April 12 at Massachusetts General Hospital from complications of a stroke. He was 82.

“He was a wonderful leader and collaborator,’’ said architect Peter Chermayeff, who was just 26 years old when Mr. Stone’s committee tapped him to reinvent the aquarium experience from a museum-style visit to an immersion adventure.

“I had the privilege of working with him on a project that was dear to his heart, and that passion he had for the project was a major reason for its success,’’ said Chermayeff, who has since designed more than 20 aquariums in major cities worldwide.

Mr. Stone, who came to love the ocean as a boy during summers on Buzzards Bay, backed the creation of the aquarium’s centerpiece — a four-story ocean tank that let visitors connect with marine life in a way that was previously impossible on land.

“We had our trials and tribulations’’ during the project, recalled Jacob F. Brown II, an early treasurer for the aquarium’s board and a longtime friend of Mr. Stone.

“But David looked at the waterfront, which was in such disrepair, and in his mind, he was able to see all those shacks not there and something that would be a wonderful attraction, something Boston sorely needed,’’ Brown said.

Mr. Stone was president of the aquarium’s board of directors from 1959 to 1976. He and fellow aquarium founder Henry “Hal’’ Lyman spent a decade fund-raising and planning before the aquarium opened in June 1969. On the first day, 13,000 people visited.

“Sea life had always been a love of his,’’ said his son Ben, who lives in Holliston. Building the aquarium “was a way for him to express his own personal interest and do good at the same time.’’

When it came to the nitty-gritty of budgeting and building, Mr. Stone was even-keeled, Chermayeff recalled.

“Others were harder and tougher about those issues, but David had a marvelous balance to him of business sense and determination to get value from money as a good Yankee businessman,’’ he said. “There was a discipline imposed, but it was done with a gentle hand.’’

Mr. Stone grew up in Brookline. He was the third of five children born to Robert and Betty Stone. His grandfather Galen was a founder of the investment firm Hayden, Stone & Co., which was established in 1892.

Mr. Stone went to The Park School in Brookline and graduated from Milton Academy. During World War II, he became a merchant marine. He graduated from the US Merchant Marine Academy in New York and served as a junior officer on a freighter circumnavigating Latin America.

After the war, he earned his undergraduate degree at Harvard in 1950 and his MBA at Harvard in 1952. He started out in investment banking at his grandfather’s firm in the New York office.

In 1963, he joined North American Management Corp., based in Boston, where he later became director, president, and chairman.

“He was a very quiet leader,’’ said Brown, who is chairman of North American Management Trust. “He was quite an unassuming person. He had a clear vision as to what he wanted to do, but I think he had a knack of bringing people to focus on that vision with great enthusiasm. He was a wonderful leader.’’

Mr. Stone had five sons with his first wife, Sally Foster. They divorced in the 1970s. His son David S. died in 2003 from a heart attack at age 51. He had a son with his second wife, Ellen Desmond. She died of cancer in 1999.

Mr. Stone married Margot eight years ago, and they divided their time between homes in Boston and Marion.

Mr. Stone learned the power of nonprofits as a young businessman when he acted as the Boston representative for the Hayden Trust, which was started by his grandfather’s business partner Charles Hayden, friends said.

The work led Mr. Stone to become involved on the boards of many organizations over the years, including Wellesley College, Boston Society for Natural History, Northeastern University, Trustees of Reservations, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Arnold Arboretum, and Harvard Museum of Natural History.

He also had served as leader of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, among many other organizations over the years.

The day after he died, a few early supporters of the New England Aquarium gathered on the waterfront to lower the aquarium’s flag to half staff in his honor.

“More than anything else,’’ Brown said, “he liked to watch the schoolchildren come into the aquarium.’’

In addition to his wife and son Ben, Mr. Stone leaves his brothers, Galen of Marion and Henry of Harrisville, Mich.; four other sons, Peter of Marion, Drew of Canton, Conn., Jonathan of Providence, and Daniel of Seattle and Marion; and 10 grandchildren.

A public memorial service will be held at 11:30 a.m. May 8 in Marion.