Edo Potter of Edgartown wins 2011 Spirit of the Vineyard Award

Edo Potter, flanked by Judy Willliamson (left), who won the Spirit award in 2005, and Polly Brown, the 2007 winner. — Photo by Lynn Christoffers

At a warm, understated reception at the Edgartown Yacht Club on Thursday, December 1, a dedicated group of Islanders turned out for the presentation of this year’s Spirit of the Vineyard Award to Edo Potter of Chappaquiddick.

The tone of the gathering fit the honoree to a tee: warmth, humility, and dedication personify both Ms. Potter herself and her efforts that make the Island a better place to live, now and in the future.

Sponsored by Hospice of Martha’s Vineyard, the annual award is given to a person whose work with local nonprofit organizations “…has made a difference to individuals and the community as a whole.” Of the 13 previous winners of the award, more than half attended Thursday’s event: Kerry Alley, Dorothy Bangs, Emily Bramhall, Polly Brown, Melinda Loberg, Ron Rappaport, Judy Williamson, and Denys and Marilyn Wortman.

After falling in love with the Island when she first got to know it during the 1930s, Ms. Potter has devoted much of her energy to conservation work — on Chappy, in Edgartown, and across Martha’s Vineyard. She helped start the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary. She wrote the zoning bylaws that Edgartown adopted in the early 1970s. She has served on the boards of most conservation organizations on the Island and on several town boards in Edgartown. Starting in 1980, she served four terms as selectman, and she was instrumental in saving more than 500 acres in the town, including South Beach, the Waller Farm, and Katama Farm. She currently serves on the Edgartown Conservation Commission.

After welcoming the crowd at Thursday’s gathering, Ms. Brown, a Hospice volunteer, introduced three speakers —Tom Durawa, James Lengyel, and Nancy Hugger.

Mr. Durawa was a selectman during Ms. Potter’s time on the board. “We worked together for 12 years,” he said. “We had a good time and we accomplished a lot. Edo was not complicated. She was open-minded, thoughtful, and totally prepared. She was a good all-around selectman, but her passion was conservation.”

Instead of listing her “conservation accomplishments, I want to talk about her totality,” said Mr. Lengyel, executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank. “Above all her decency: Edo is calm, polite, and fair. She is not spiteful, never vindictive. The worst she would say about someone was ‘He’s not my favorite person.'”

Ms. Hugger, who works with Ms. Potter on the Chappy Open Space Committee, first mentioned Ms. Potter’s passion for the land. “But it is tempered by morality,” she said. “She wants conservation, but she can handle loss. I’ve enjoyed working with someone of that character, and I admire her for it.

“I’ve learned so much from Edo’s passion, from her experience, her dedication. She is generous with her wisdom, and her strength. She had such courage when she was facing the lions. She taught me what it means to be a friend, and to love the land.”

Brief and to the point, the speakers allowed attendees plenty of time to socialize, have a drink, and sample a bountiful spread of hors d’oeuvres.

Finally, Ms. Potter took the microphone. In a typical deflection of attention from herself, she said: “Thank you, Polly Brown, for organizing this gathering for Hospice. Thank you, Bill Roman and the Edgartown Yacht Club, for inviting us here. Hospice is a unique organization whose volunteers selflessly help those in need. They exemplify the Spirit of the Vineyard and I am honored to be chosen to receive this award.

“Martha’s Vineyard is a remarkable place. So many people on this Island deserve this award; for conserving important places, for caring for those in need, for encouraging the arts. All their efforts make the Vineyard a very special place to live and work.

I am very grateful for this honor and humbled by it. It has been a wonderful experience to work for the town and the Island and I feel well rewarded for my efforts.

“Thank you all for coming tonight.”