Helen P. White


Helen P (Benefit) White, 85, died peacefully with her family at her side, December 29 at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital.

She was born November 19, 1925, to Joseph and Marion (Mello) Benefit in the Edgartown family home where she lived for 75 years. The home continues to remain in the family, now into the 4th generation.

She was predeceased by her siblings, Lena, Mary, Joseph, Lillian and Hilda, all of whom also lived their lives here on the Island. She was also predeceased by Joseph A. White, to whom she was married for 31 years.

She is survived by her only son, Ken White, and his wife, Ellen; grandson Zack White and his wife, Rachel; and granddaughter, Amanda White. She is also survived by many cherished nieces and nephews.

Helen’s parents left San Miguel Island, Azores, in 1904, settling briefly in Fall River. After a few years, the Benefit family boarded a ferry that ran from Fall River to Edgartown, and sunk their roots into Martha’s Vineyard. Helen’s father worked from a young age on a whaling boat in the Azores and became a skilled fisherman. He operated numerous working catboats in Edgartown Harbor, including one of which he named Helen 2, after his youngest daughter. Helen often helped her father, working in his shanty on the Edgartown finger piers. She was very quick and proficient at opening scallops.

She worked alongside her mother too. Together they operated an in-home laundry service, catering to the needs of the wealthy summer folk. Even into her later years, Helen continued to take in laundry for individuals in the community. She had particular, tried and true methods she would follow, and she had many pleased clients.

Helen graduated from Edgartown High School with a graduating class of thirteen. Her independent spirit resulted in her becoming one of the first women on the Island to obtain a driver’s license. She continued to hold this license, without incident, until her death.

She took flying lessons at the Katama Airport, under the direction of Steve Gentile Sr. She was just one solo flight shy of obtaining her pilot license. Her sense of adventure also led her to travel. She enjoyed warm, sunny destinations, as well as Sebago Lake, Me., Nashville,Tenn., and her favorite destination, the Azores, which she affectionately referred to as The Old Country. While there, she enjoyed the opportunities to speak her native Portuguese, of which she retained a great deal from her younger years in the family environment. Her son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren recently began studying the language and enjoyed many humorous Portuguese practice sessions with her.

Helen was extremely proud of her hometown and spent much of her time involving herself with the Edgartown community. An active member of St. Elizabeth’s Church on Main Street, she was the first to be baptized in that location. She was a member and officer of St. Elizabeth’s Guild, a member of The Woman’s Club of Martha’s Vineyard and also was a board member at the Edgartown Council on Aging. She volunteered at the Boys and Girls Club Thrift Store and continued to support them often.

Eight years ago, Helen made the move from her family home downtown to the home of her grandchildren in Katama. She settled in and enjoyed her time there, hosting her son and daughter-in-law often, as well as many various gatherings. Still, she considered the original house in town home and thus continued to care for flowers, people, and pets there as well. Daily contact with her from both family homes will be missed.

Helen was a familiar, friendly, face in town, loved yard sales, and walking the beach or bike paths with friends and family. An excellent gardener who particularly loved roses and hydrangeas, she often provided advice to others on how to get the best results.

Among the many things she’ll be remembered for are her homemade goodies, often delivered with fresh flowers to her family and friends.

She was generous, quick-witted, and loyal. She had a sense of humor and a feistiness about her that will not be easily forgotten, nor duplicated. She was an incredible mother, grandmother, aunt, and dear friend. She will be deeply missed.

A funeral was held on Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2011. Donations may be made in her memory to the Edgartown Council on Aging, PO Box 1295, Edgartown, MA 02539.