Foxboro native carves scrimshaw, repairs cellos in Oak Bluffs
Photo by Lynn Christoffers
What goes around, comes around.
In this case, a tribute kindly prepared for a favorite educator 46 years ago by a high school senior in Foxboro has come full circle, back into creator Lenny Reid's hands.
Contacted at his Oak Bluffs home last week, Mr. Reid and his wife Annemarie were preparing for two graduations — son Daniel's from the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School and daughter Katherine's from the Oak Bluffs School. Another daughter, Elizabeth, is taking courses at Cape Cod Community College in preparation for a nursing career.
With graduation in the air, Mr. Reid admits that he glances occasionally at a soapstone carving he made when he was a soon-to-be graduate from Foxboro High School in 1965. He gave the piece to the school's principal at the time, the late John J. Ahearn.
"I just wanted to give it to Mr. Ahearn," Mr. Reid said last week from his Oak Bluffs home. "He gave so much to all his students. No one ever gave him anything. So I decided to,"
The gift was a sculpture titled "The Coming of the Roads," presaging construction of Interstates 95 and 495, which would intersect in the small New England town, changing it forever. In 1971, Foxboro became known around the world as the home of the New England Patriots NFL football team.
"Mildred Coyne, my art teacher, had given me a piece of soapstone to work on, so I made a sculpture and gave it to Mr. Ahearn," said Mr. Reid.
After graduation, Mr. Reid attended nursing school at St. Luke's Hospital in New Bedford. Then he moved to the Island to start what turned out to be a 23-year career as an emergency room nurse at the hospital here.
John J. Ahearn died at 83 in 2005, but his character is fresh in Mr. Reid's mind. "Why did I give him that sculpture?" he asked. "John had the type of character who could get silence with a look but with an air of confidence. He was the fairest man I ever met. As a principal, it's easy to manage the successful kids, the high achievers, but he treated everyone the same way.
"He made his judgments based on the situation he was looking at, based on who you were and what he knew about you, not just on a set of rules. The only thing he demanded was that you never lied to him. If he caught you lying to him, that was it.
"I never lied to him. I had a certain respect for him. So when I finished the piece, I figured I would give it to him. No one ever gave him anything."
Today, more people believe in paying forward and performing random acts of kindness. Still, Mr. Reid certainly didn't expect the phone call he got a couple of years ago from Bill Millhomme, another Foxboro High graduate.
Speaking from his home in Foxboro last week, Mr. Millhomme (Foxboro High class of 1968) said he was the administrator of Mr. Ahearn's effects following his former principal's death. "On his mantle in the living room, I saw this sculpture with a plate that said 'L. Reid, 1965,'" he said. "I didn't know Lenny, but I looked him up in the yearbook. I figured if that sculpture was so important to John that he kept it on his mantle for 40 years, it should go back to Lenny."
In April, Mr. Reid stopped by Mr. Millhomme's house in Foxboro after a medical appointment in Boston, and received the icon he had shaped as a high-schooler more than 40 years ago. "I had no idea that John had kept it," Mr. Reid said.
As it turns out, the talent an observant art teacher saw in a teenager nearly 50 years ago has been an important part of Mr. Reid's life since then. In addition to his nursing career, Mr. Reid has worked in an extraordinary number of three-dimensional handicrafts, some of it for money and a lot for the love of the form.
"I carve whales for Tom Dupont's Edgartown Scrimshaw Shop," he said. "I've done silversmithing and gunsmithing, even sculpted a bull for the Town of Edgartown's 350th anniversary a few years ago." He has also created belt buckles for Pairpoint Glass Co. in Sagamore.
"I just finished restoring a cello that Les Stark had found somewhere," Mr. Reid said. "He gave it to me to fix. I figure it's a couple of hundred years old. So I did [fix it] and gave it to Jan Hyer. I work on all her cellos." Ms. Hyer is a member of the Vineyard Sinfonietta chamber group.
Mr. Reid grew increasingly animated as he described the process of restoring the cello. "Structurally, a cello is like a suspension bridge, and it gets tremendous structural pressure when it's played, more than most stringed instruments," he said. "Eventually, it collapses in on itself."
But back to the present and graduation gifts. For Daniel, Mr. Reid had the perfect item stashed away for part of his high school graduation present. "Daniel's been accepted to the Mass. Maritime Academy in September," he said. "He needs a rope knife, and I got to thinking. My father had a rope knife, the first knife I ever used. Cut my fingers trying to open it when I was two or three years old.
"Sure enough, I still had it. I cleaned it up, sharpened it, and Daniel's got his rope knife."
What goes around, comes around.