Therese Marie McKinnon Hall, wife of Benjamin Lambert “Buzz” Hall, of Edgartown, died peacefully while under hospice care at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital on March 4, 2011, finally succumbing to a nine-year battle with ovarian cancer.
She was born on June 12, 1932, in Lowell, the second of six children of Daniel Francis McKinnon of Boston and Agatha Gotab of Taunton.
She was raised in old South Boston, graduated cum laude from high school, and then attended secretarial school. While working first for the Boston Housing Authority and later for Houghton-Mifflin and various publishing firms around Boston, she managed to attend Boston University. Later, she worked as the office manager for Grolier Publishing, during which period she met and fell in love with Buzz while they were both students. After courting for two years, they were (secretly) married on April 15, 1958, (Easter Sunday). Buzz, who had asked her to marry him many times, received a call on the Vineyard that day from Therese in Boston to come and marry her. He, who was the soloist in the Federated Church choir, was being depended upon to sing at Easter service. He did manage to catch the noon ferry and took the bus to meet his bride-to-be for their nuptials. They were married in Brookline by a retired Methodist minister. The bride wore Bermuda shorts. They were so happy, the newlyweds walked hand-in-hand all the way home to her apartment on the backside of Beacon Hill.
They soon moved to Edgartown and had two sons, Benjamin Jr., and Brian-Alexander. When she first moved to the Island, Therese worked for Mrs. Bonnar Atwood at the Katama Shores Motor Inn (now Winnetu). Later, she helped Buzz run Edgartown Electrical Equipment on South Summer Street, which was the Westinghouse appliance dealership, raising her sons in the apartment above the store. Later, when Buzz joined his father, the late Alfred Hall, in running the movie theaters on the Island, she also assisted, wearing many hats, training the young personnel, answering calls about what was showing, etc.
They moved in 1964 to Simpson’s Lane and resided there until her infirmities from the cancer treatments required that she live on a single level.
During the Simpson’s Lane years, the home was the center of much joy in raising the boys and entertaining their many friends. Music was always playing in the household and Therese loved to make her sons dance with her, often much to their chagrin. Birthday parties were always a time of much celebration with the entire Edgartown School class invited.
During the winter, running the Town Hall theatre on weekends in Edgartown became a family event. Therese would sell the tickets. Ben Jr. would act as doorman. Brian would usher, and Buzz would run the projectors.
But, her true calling was evident from the first thing she did when she moved to the Island. She took all of her savings and bought a three-quarter acre lot at the end of Katama Drive. It was the first piece of property they acquired. Therese was always interested in having land. Ironically for Therese, who was known for never wanting to sell any of her property, the Katama Drive lot was the first of only several properties she ever sold.
She and Buzz would spend the winter months researching property at the Registry of Deeds, teaching themselves how to examine title. She would, in the process, study the history of land ownership and the genealogy of Island families to determine the rightful owners of lands in this present day. In doing that land research together, they came to know many people who had been helped by Buzz’s father during the Great Depression. This further inspired Therese to a lifelong interest in the history of the Island and Island families, while never ceasing to be proud of her own Polish and Scotch-Irish heritage, into which she also delved. But she took a special interest in Buzz’s family history and would seek out those lands that had family connections.
They started acquiring properties, one house and one lot here and there. When people were having difficulties finding a buyer, they would approach Therese, who always had a sympathetic ear. She would convince Buzz to buy, and he would roll up his sleeves, eventually with the help of his youngest, Brian, and they would fix up these places and rent them out. These homes provided entry-level housing for countless students and workers, many of whom have remained on the Island, enriching the fabric of our community. Therese, who eventually became known as “Ms. Theresa,” and Buzz, as “Mr. House,” were the people to talk to if you were having trouble finding a place to live.
Therese was always trying to help the disadvantaged. She would invite people who were having trouble finding home sites to join with her in acquiring property, to the great dismay of some off-Island developers. These first-time homebuilders would end up with a buildable lot for one-third of what the prevailing price would have been, with Therese financing the acquisition to boot. Can you imagine in the 1980s putting down $600 and paying $100 a month, less than a car payment, to own a lot on the Vineyard valued at $17,000 at that time?
When Therese was diagnosed with cancer in 2002, she was told she had three months to live. She always felt that through her faith, and the prayers of others, she survived in order to enjoy her sons’ families, and their children. Even the doctors began to share in her faith, growing to understand its power through Therese.
She is survived by her husband of almost 53 years, her older son, Benjamin L. Hall Jr., and his children, Astoria Elizabeth Anderson Hall and Olympia Katherine Kamhout Hall, and their mother, Gretchen Anderson; Brian-Alexander McKinnon Hall, Therese’s younger son, and his wife, Laura Sargent Hall, and their children, Ethan Stanford Hall and Grace Athena Hall, all of the Island; and her brothers, Daniel McKinnon of Stoughton, Edward McKinnon and Terry McKinnon of St. Petersburg, Fla., and Larry McKinnon of Livermore, Cal., and numerous nieces and nephews and their children. She was predeceased by her parents and her brother James.
A memorial service is planned for March 19, 2011, at 11 am at the Federated Church in Edgartown with a reception to follow at the Parish Hall next door.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks those who wish to do so to make a donation to the Hall Family Fund in Memory of Therese M. McKinnon Hall at the Island Affordable Housing Fund, PO Box 4769, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568, or to Hospice of Martha’s Vineyard, P.O. Box 2549, Oak Bluffs, MA 02557 or to the Gynecologic Oncology Research Committee at Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center, Development Office, 165 Cambridge Street, Suite 600, Boston, MA 02114, or to a charity of your choice.
Thanks to all who supported Therese in her hour of need. May God bless you all.