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Clarence Gifford, banker, wine expert, Andrea Doria survivor

Clarence H. "Bud" Gifford Jr., 91, a buoyant banking executive and wine expert with the papers to prove it, died of heart failure Tuesday in Boston.

Mr. Gifford was the former chairman of the board of directors of Rhode Island Hospital Trust and Pacific National Bank. He had an extensive wine cellar in his home in Nantucket and was the author of a book on wine lore called "One Man's Wine." In 1989, he was awarded an honorary doctor of enology degree by Johnson & Wales University.

"He was a lover of life," his son, Chad Gifford, chairman of FleetBoston Financial Corp., said yesterday. "He had an incredible curiosity and was as comfortable talking to the Queen of England as he was to the newest recruit at a bank he was running himself."

Mr. Gifford was born in Elizabethtown, Ky. He worked his way through Brown University as a waiter in Providence restaurants. After graduating in 1936, he joined his father in a small real estate business before serving in the Navy during World War II.

After the war he joined the staff at the Phoenix Bank, a small institution in Providence that was later bought by Rhode Island Hospital Trust. The president of Hospital Trust took a liking to him and eventually named him his successor.

"All careers have an element of luck," said his son.

In 1937, Mr. Gifford married Priscilla M. Kilvert of Providence and the couple remained devoted to each other for 67 years. "Just three weeks ago they were having dinner at Le Meridien and they were holding hands," said their son.

On a foggy night in 1956, Mr. Gifford, his wife, and four children were returning from a trip to Europe aboard the Andrea Doria when the Italian luxury liner was struck midship by the Swedish liner Stockholm and sank.

The family was in adjoining cabins when the ships collided at 11:10 p.m.

"I had an ulcer in those days, had a glass of milk on the bureau and bang! The glass of milk flew across the room," Mr. Gifford said in a story published by The Associated Press in 1999.

The family scrambled to the top deck and clung to each other as the ship began listing. Abiding by the seagoing adage "women and children first," Mr. Gifford watched as his wife and children were helped into lifeboats and departed. Mr. Gifford found a seat on a later lifeboat.

The family was reunited aboard the Ile de France, which had raced to the scene.

Mr. Gifford was president and chairman of the board of directors of Rhode Island Hospital Trust from 1963 until his retirement in 1974. He was also a director of the toy company Hasbro and Textron, a multinational conglomerate that owns companies such as Bell Helicopter and Cessna Aircraft.

He was a man of great enthusiasm. His son recalled a ski trip to Canada when he saw a mink by the side of the road. Most people would watch it run by; Mr. Gifford chased it down and caught it, his son said.

Mr. Gifford took great pleasure in his son's career and enjoyed attending the FleetBoston annual meetings, except when someone criticized his son. "I'd keep an eye on him, because I could tell when he was getting ready to attack [the critic]," said Chad Gifford.

In addition to his wife and son, Mr. Gifford leaves three children, Bambi Mleczko, and Dun and Jock Gifford, all of whom have homes on Nantucket; 13 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements are private. A memorial service will be held in July.

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