Basil Lambert Welch died peacefully in his sleep on September 24, after a brief illness. He was 87.
He was born on his mother’s birthday, April 16, 1924, at his grandmother’s house in Oak Bluffs. Basil led a full and active life and had many friends.
He grew-up on Mt. Aldworth Road in Tisbury where his family had a flower and vegetable garden and a greenhouse in their backyard. Basil’s own yard and gardens showed his love of plants throughout his life.
He was a graduate of Tisbury High School, class of 1942, and went to work briefly with the Tisbury Highway Department. He was not allowed in the service because of asthma, but he wanted to do his part, so he moved to Stockbridge and drove a supply truck for the Air Force. After the war, he came home and worked briefly at the ArtCliff Diner, cooking and running the grill. A short time later, he walked across the street to Duke’s County Garage at what was then Four Corners and worked for six years in the paint shop, painting vehicles and repairing flat tires.
In 1950, he meet Elisabeth J. Hanson, and they married in November 1950. Two daughters were born, Linda in 1952 and Laurie in 1956. Weekends in the summer were spent having beach cookouts with his brother Malcolm and his family, and in winters he took his girls sledding.
With a young family to provide for, Basil took a job with New England Telephone Company as an installer and repairman, a job he held for the next 32 years, until his retirement. He was the one who switched over the towns of Chilmark and Gay Head to the dial system. During his years with the phone company, Basil began to notice all the nooks and crannies of the Island, as he checked out phone lines to remote and out of the way places before all the development took over.
Never without a camera, he began to photograph outhouses. They were a common sight, even though most were out of service, but Basil saw the beauty in their design and shape and even their locations in relation to a dwelling. Sometimes these outhouses would be built into a stone wall, or sometimes he would find one standing alone, long after the main house was gone. He photographed these and has quite a collection, realizing that some day there would be no more.
Among Basil’s many hobbies included carvings he did in his basement workshop. This he got from his father, who carved small animals. Basil would carve many shore birds, ducks, miniature row boats complete with oar locks, oars and a box containing even more miniature duck decoys. He carved a farm scene with animals, a farmer and his wife, depicting his grandparents’ place. He made tiny rifles including Davy Crockett’s Ole Betsy. He was very proud of the many ribbons he won at the Ag Fair for his carvings.
Basil was a poet and sent an occasional two- or three-page poem about what was going on at home to his daughter Linda when she was at school. Most of his poems were exchanged between him and his brother Neil, but some made it into the Island newspapers, usually about an issue on which he had an opinion.
Basil was an avid reader and had bookshelves crammed with books about nature, wildlife, but also westerns, and detective work.
Basil enjoyed fishing in local fresh water ponds with his daughter Laurie, and he enjoyed hunting. He hunted rabbits, deer, ducks, and pheasant as a young boy, and his love of it carried on throughout his life. He traveled up to Jerry’s Pond in the middle of Maine every November for almost 25 years. If the snow was deep and the pond frozen, he would park his truck, and a snowmobile would pick him up and take him in the last few miles.
Basil loved the wilderness and was always accompanied by his faithful dog, Penny. As years went by and Basil and Penny aged, it became harder and not quite as safe for them to go into the woods to hunt. Not wanting to miss out on his annual adventure, Basil and Penny would make the trip anyway, but Basil became the cook. He cooked on an old wood-burning stove and said the food never tasted so good as it did on that stove.
During a cold winter in the late 1970s, Basil’s neighbor Stan Lair and he got together almost nightly and copied photographs from old negatives and glass plates that they borrowed from others, and the two of them ended up with several albums filled with photos from the early 1800s through the 1900s, of every town on Martha’s Vineyard. Basil’s love for Island history carried on through his photographs and many stories. He knew almost everything about anything, and was interviewed many times by Lindsay Lee for Vineyard Voices, the Vineyard Gazette and The Martha’s Vineyard Times.
Country Western music was another hobby. Basil’s collection of records, tapes, and CDs could fill a small studio. Every time you spoke to him on the phone, or if you were sitting at his kitchen table, country music was in the background. He traveled the East Coast from Maine to Florida to Tennessee over his many years, and at each stop he would find an out of the way country western show or concert. His favorite singers were Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson.
Basil retired from the phone company and moved to Chilmark, in a house his parents started to build behind their own. Basil finished the house and moved in around in mid 1980s. Retirement got him anxious to do something else, so among his many hobbies, he became superintendent of Abel’s Hill Cemetery in Chilmark in 1985, a position he held for 23 years. He was instrumental in clearing up and cleaning out a lot of trees and weeds and as he would always say “those damn Russian olives!”
He once told an interviewer that he would one day be resting there himself and wanted to make it a nice place for everyone. During his years of clearing a new section was opened, roads were added, stones repaired and lawns mowed. One year, he wrote his part in the Chilmark annual town report, “All is quiet on Abel’s Hill, and that’s the way it should be.”
Abel’s Hill Cemetery is where Basil will rest beside his sister, Marijane Poole, and her husband, Matthew, where he can rest in the sun and watch his birds in the nearby trees. Basil’s love for birds was evident, as he had chickens, turkeys, and peacocks. He loved the ducks on the pond near his home. He had a dozen birdfeeders around his window. None were allowed to go empty and his cats never bothered the birds.
Basil was member of the Tisbury Police Department as a special officer, the Tisbury Fire Department and the Chilmark Fire Department. He was a life member of the Martha’s Vineyard Rod and Gun Club, which he joined in 1955 and served as president and secretary for years.
Basil was the last of his family. He was predeceased by his parents Milton L. and Rose deBettencourt Welch, his brothers Malcolm, Melvin, Neil, and Justin, his sister Marijane Poole, and his grandson-in-law Robert Reilly.
He is survived by his daughters Linda M. Voluckas and Laurie Clements, his son-in-law Steve Voluckas, his grandchildren Stephanie Reilly, Robert Townes, Jordan Clements and Marie Clements, his great-grandchildren Peyton Reilly, Brevnee Reilly, and Kamari Clements. He is also survived by his sister-in-laws Emilia Welch, Gladys Welch, Violet Welch, Audrey Hanson, and Virginia Riley, his brother-in-laws Edward Riley and Richard Hanson, and many nieces and nephews.
He will sadly be missed by his longtime friend Corajane “Coco” Adams and his best friend, Blair Emin, and many more.
A memorial visitation will be held on Sunday, October 2, from 5 to 7 pm in the Chapman, Cole & Gleason Funeral Home, Edgartown Road, Oak Bluffs.
Basil’s Graveside service will be held on Monday, October 3, at 11 am at Abel’s Hill Cemetery, Chilmark with the Rev. Bill Eddy officiating, followed by a gathering at the Chilmark Community Center for potluck. Please bring a dish to share.
Donations in Basil’s memory may be made to Martha’s Vineyard Chapter of Ducks Unlimited, P.O. Box 1724, Edgartown, MA 02539 or Martha’s Vineyard Rod and Gun Club, P.O. Box 1799, Edgartown, MA 02539. Please visit ccgfuneralhome.com for online guest book and information.