Big Brothers, Sisters mentor on Martha’s Vineyard

Marcia and Bill Randol, in front of their home in Chilmark. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

When Bill Randol retired and moved full time to Chilmark 10 years ago, he decided to become a Big Brother to an Island kid. “I had just retired and wanted be involved rather than just twiddling my thumbs,” the former financial consultant and energy executive said. “My motivation? I don’t know that I can describe it other than I was drawn to the idea,” he said.

“I believe that we have received far more than we have given as a result of our part of Gordon’s life,” he said Monday at home with Marcia, his wife of 43 years.

“Joyful,” said Ms. Randol of her husband’s mentoring experience, which became a family affair. “I would describe it as joyful.”

Mr. Randol is not a thumb-twiddler by nature, it would seem. Among other projects he has served for seven years on the Chilmark housing committee, which was intstrumental in creating the Middle Line Road affordable housing complex that opened earlier this month.

The Randols are a snapshot of what is possible when people open their hearts. They are parents of two sons and grandparents of four, soon to be five, grandchildren. They have a healthy share of life’s material goods. A good life.

But as they described the entrance of a bright eight-year old into their lives and the subsequent unfolding of his development and life, one observes a delightful sense of awe and gratitude in their voices, the result of Mr. Randol’s simple decision to share his life with a kid who could use a role model.

“He is a great kid — smart, funny. He got 100 in chemistry — which I barely passed in school,” said Mr. Randol who holds two engineering degrees from Rice University in San Antonio, Texas, and an MBA from the Harvard Business School in Cambridge.

Mr. Randol protects his Little’s full identity but notes the high school senior is getting ready to head for college and both Randols exhibit a hint of empty-nest syndrome. “I hope he’ll write from time to time,” Mr. Randol says.

Yet while the Randols see Gordon as an extension of their own family, they are clear that Gordon’s birth family is primary and a nourishing part of his life. “I can’t say enough about his mother,” Mr. Randol said. “She is a hard-working woman who is completely focused on her kids. An amazing woman.”

“I remember interviewing for the (Big Brother) job,” Mr. Randol said. “His mom and the Big Brother Big Sister (BBBS) representative on the Island met with me for coffee in Edgartown. BBBS is very thorough, they do background checks and all candidates are CORI-ed (Criminal Offender Record Information).”

Mr. Randol provided a supplementary benefit to his little brother’s life experience. “He learned to navigate our boat on Chilmark Pond,” he said. “We played chess — I can’t beat him anymore — and Scrabble, which is a great vocabulary builder.

“Baseball is his favorite sport, but we worked on his golf swing in the backyard. Now he hits it too far. There are a lot of golf balls out there,” Mr. Randol smiled, gesturing outdoors.

Mr. Randol described a relationship built on consistency. “We often have dinner here, but we’ve gone out to dinner once a week,” he said. “I got to learn the Friday roast beef special at The Wharf in Edgartown. That was new.

“We’re lucky to have a good fit with Gordon. Sometimes the relationship is tricky and doesn’t work. But like every relationship, you have to work at it and stay with it. That’s important.”

The Randols’ thoughts on Gordon are described incisively in a recommendation letter that Gordon asked them to write.

“We have come to know Gordon very, very well,” the letter reads in part. “Bill spends an afternoon a week with him… He is very mature… and he has done very well at school… He is especially gifted in quantitative or strategic endeavors and routinely beats Bill at chess, checkers, or Scrabble… In short he is a kid who would fit in very well in a college environment. He also makes friends very easily and has a great sense of humor.

“We are very proud of the fine young man he has become, and will continue our relationship with him through college and beyond. He has truly become part of our family….”

The Randols describe the Big Brother experience as enlarging their family sphere in a relationship extending to Gordon’s family, and between Gordon and their own kids and grand kids.

So what’s the trick to Big Brothering successfully? “It’s important not to do this as a ‘charitable’ enterprise, but as a relationship with a young person you wouldn’t ordinary have,” said Ms. Randol who has spent nearly a decade observing her husband and his little brother interacting. “It’s not about what you’re giving and it’s not about someone you can mold, but about someone you can have a trusting relationship with, a child who feels safe and happy in your home.

“Gordon is a forthcoming young man. He’ll talk about things that are bothering him. We’re friends. Bill doesn’t talk down to him and he doesn’t talk down to us as nerdy old folks.”

For Mr. Randol, the relationship with Gordon has benefitted both of them. “He has said we’ve made a difference,” he said. “Certainly, he’s kept me young. I’ll miss him when he goes off to college.”