Last Saturday morning, May 15, H. Stanley Hart II, 80, died peacefully, surrounded by those he loved. In his final days and hours with the help of Hospice, his family, and the support of many friends, he remained himself — telling stories, alert to humor, and reminiscing. Stan had accepted his approaching death as he had learned to accept all the trials and triumphs of his life, which was lived with passion and honest reflection.
Stan was born in 1929 and grew up in New Britain, Conn. His grandfather, William H. Hart, a 19th-century industrialist, joined Stanley Tools in 1854 and rose to serve as president from 1884 to 1915, leading the company to national prominence. Childhood summers were at Harthaven in Oak Bluffs with his sister Lucy and brother Bill and all the cousins, aunts, and uncles of the Hart family. His college years at Wesleyan University were interrupted by service in the U. S. Air Force. Stan graduated from Wesleyan in 1957 and a few years later was married with two children and working for Little, Brown Publishers in Boston. He persuaded Lillian Hellman to join Little, Brown, and while there she wrote four bestsellers. Stan’s love of literature inspired him to open a bookstore on the Vineyard in 1959 called The Red Cat. Writers and readers, both famous and anonymous, would gather for evenings of talk and lobster dinners. The other Red Cat was his 50-foot schooner which he sailed near and far. After his first marriage ended, he met and wed Maria Look in 1969. Literary and sailing adventures continued. In 1971 their first child, Sloan, was born, followed by Max in 1972, and Sam in 1977. Stan and Maria built a home behind The Red Cat Bookstore in North Tisbury.
Drinking and socializing had always been important in Stan’s busy life, but now alcohol was becoming a problem. He realized this and began to meet with friends of Bill W. The bookstore closed and the family moved to Chilmark, building a home on Abel’s Hill where the Hart family from the early 30s had had summer camps for hunting, fishing, and swimming on south beach.
By this time Stan had left publishing and was writing himself. His life experiences provided fertile ground for his pen. “The Martha’s Vineyard Affair,” a mystery, was published by Dell in 1980. His passion for tennis led to his next book, “Once a Champion” in 1985 under the imprint of Dodd Mead. Stan tracked down 20 legendary figures in the tennis world, interviewing each, and talking them into getting onto a tennis court with him. The collection of essays are an extended love poem to the sport he loved. Stan again went on the road to visit more than 100 rehab facilities in the U. S., interviewing staff, assessing programs, inspecting rooms, and tasting the food. The result was “ReHab,” which was brought out by Harper and Row in 1988. It has been called a Fielding’s Guide to rehab centers. In 1999 Publisher’s Weekly wrote about his memoir, “Fumblefinger,” “Hart lays bare the dark currents swirling beneath his privileged life.” In this book Stan recounts the story of his life in a raw but vivid and honest way. This was followed by “A Conquering Son” in 2002, a semi-autobiographical novel also about a young man coming of age. “When Truth Calls,” a mystery, was published in 2003.
Just before he died, Stan finished two more books. A novel, “Late in the Day,” and another memoir, “Significant Others.” Always charming and never shy, Stan met many people in his travels. This final book is a collection of essays about famous and some not so famous persons he encountered in his lifetime, from General Douglas MacArthur, Veronica Lake, Gregory Peck, and Ginger Rogers, to Marie Scott of Chilmark.
Writers often have secondary jobs, and for Stan these included working at the Johnson Institute and Edgehill, both rehabilitation facilities for substance abuse. He was also the maitre d’ at the Home Port in Menemsha for many summers. From 1993 to the present he was a real estate broker for Conroy and Co. On occasion he would meet prospective buyers at the Martha’s Vineyard Airport, escorting them to his second-hand car, his elderly dog and tennis racket on the back seat, saying, “If you don’t like my car, you won’t like the Vineyard.”
In 1985 Stan became a single parent. He credited his three children — Sloan, Max, and Sam — for teaching and inspiring him to be the extraordinary father and good parent that he was. The family closeness and intimacy that he had always sought became a reality. Home, writing, friends, the beach, tennis, dinners, books, trips off-Island to see plays, laughter, conversation — all these interests drew many to Stan.
Friend or stranger, when Stan saw you his whole being would smile with delight and anticipation of what might follow. He was always engaged in the wondrous exchange of human experience. His stories, both written and told, will live on.
Stan is survived by his daughter Sloan who lives in Milford, Massachusetts. His sons Max and Sam are both Brooklyn, New York residents. The children from his first marriage, Hilary Hart and Ward Hart, live respectively in Oregon and Mexico.
There was a private burial at Abel’s Hill Cemetery earlier this week. A Celebration for Stan Hart’s life will be held at the Agricultural Hall in West Tisbury on Saturday, June 12 from 4 to 8 pm. This will be a potluck with music and refreshments provided. All are welcome.
Donations in Stan Hart’s name may be made to The Vineyard House, P.O. Box 4599, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568 or www.vineyardhouse.org
The family suggested to Stan a few weeks before he died that he might like to write his own obituary. He agreed and soon after wrote these words.
Howard Stanley Hart II, My Life in Brief
By Stan Hart
For many years I was reminded that I was born just after the “Crash” in October of 1929. There was humor in my parents’ comments, but it seemed quite true that my mother’s conception might have been avoided had they known what was coming.
I had a wonderful childhood through the seventh grade. The best year of my life was in the sixth grade at the Vance School. My family was living in New Britain, Connecticut, and by the sixth grade I had become a very good athlete as well as the smartest and most popular kid in my class — which at age 80 I state unequivocally. My success was made possible by the love of our cook, Mary Kohl. Mary encouraged me and mothered me. I ate my evening meals with her and shared my thoughts with her. My parents were distant. Mary saved me from feeling like an orphan in my own home. Many years later she told her daughter-in-law that she always believed I would become someone very special. She believed in me.
In the seventh grade, 1942, I spent a joyous year at a private day school near my home but sometime in the spring of that year Mary was let go without explanation and we moved to Maryland. I would find out decades later that Mary Kohl and my father were lovers, and that Mary had been pregnant. For 20 years or so my life was not mine and underachieving was the way I lived. To myself, I became a failure. I failed at marriage and as a parent. By 1968 I had quit a wonderful job at a Boston publishing house and I was dependent upon alcohol. In 1968 I fled Boston for Martha’s Vineyard where I had summered since I was seven months old. I quickly remarried and fathered three children to go with the two that I had left behind with my first wife.
On Martha’s Vineyard, I re-opened my bookstore in 1968. Founded in 1959, its name was The Red Cat. I purchased a 50-foot Gloucester schooner and twice cruised to the Bahamas without incident. But after four wonderful years with my schooner, while sailing near Woods Hole and under the influence, I rammed a small cabin cruiser that I did not see because my mainsail was blocking my vision. Such was the reason, but there was no excuse. Soon after that mishap I sold the schooner to a man who sailed her to Maine. I started living alcohol-free but with sporadic relapses. Finally, in 1985 I took my last drink.
I am indebted very much to Mary Kohl, who embellished my life when I was a child. Also, to psychoanalysis which took seven years, comprised of five-days-a-week sessions. From analysis I began to learn who I was. My four years in the Air Force as an enlisted man during the Korean War transformed me into a regular guy — imperfect but human. In Alcoholics Anonymous, where I went to my first meeting in 1968, I learned about life.
I have six books published but received little fame for my efforts. I wrote them for myself as a painter paints for himself. Of my five children, three are close to me. Sloan, Max, and Sam are treasures in my life and we enjoy each other immensely. I view myself as a writer who is a regular guy who does not drink nor smoke and loves his friends and those women who passed his way. Abbe Burt of Vineyard Haven has been a loving companion during my later years. Without her I would have been a very lonely old man.
I view my life as tumultuous but ultimately successful. And as I think about it, most of the people who I met and with whom I interacted were kindly, decent, and helpful. I liked almost everyone I ever met. I was a lucky boy and I die a lucky man.