Sarah Gibbons Ward “Sally” Dunkley, a long-time year-round and seasonal resident of Martha’s Vineyard, died in Naples, Florida, on December 28, 2011, after complications from ongoing treatment for lymphoma. She was 72 years old.
Sally was born on July 13, 1939, in Manhattan, first daughter of John and Margaret “Maggie” Gibbons. She was raised in the family’s 19th-century Dutch colonial farmhouse known as the John Jacob Blauvelt House, in New City, New York.
As a child she and her brother, John, and sister, Molly, enjoyed helping on the farm, playing in the fields and skating on the swamp. Sally attended elementary school across the street at Street School, and later the Baldwin School For Girls in Bryn Mawr, Penn.
Sally studied as an undergraduate in art at Cornell University, and met with Josef Albers at Yale University with the intent to continue her studies there. However, life intervened, and Sally became a wife and mother, giving birth to her two daughters, Molly and Linda.
Sally worked as a dental assistant as well as continuing her art studies at the Lighthouse School of Art and Design in Nyack, N.Y., while raising her children at the family home in New City. She married Kenneth Ward, also of New City, in 1968, and they continued to enjoy life at the family home until it was donated in 1970 to the Rockland County Historical Society.
Sally welcomed the birth of her son, Jonathan Robert McKenzie Ward, in 1972. In the summer of 1973, Sally and family made a move that would affect all of their lives: they relocated year-round to Martha’s Vineyard, living on the Gibbons property on Lighthouse Road in Gay Head, which had been her family’s summer getaway since the late 1940s. They eventually settled in the woods of Vineyard Haven.
Sally’s life as an artist began to blossom on the Vineyard. She began regularly oil painting, developing, exhibiting, and selling her signature, satirical character studies. “My people,” as she called them, included cocktail partygoers, cleaning women, taxi drivers, middle-aged beach-goers, and humans engaged in everyday activities with a humorous slant.
Sally became a graphic designer for Woodchips Designers of Vineyard Haven in the 1970s, producing a line of tote bags and other household items. As a freelance artist, she designed popular greeting cards, as well as tee-shirts, logos, posters and signs for local events and businesses (Tashmoo Farm, Nip n’ Tuck Farm, Vineyard Gourmet, and a painting that still hangs in the Vineyard Haven Public Library, to name just a few). In 1977, Tashmoo Press published her first book, “Summer People, Some Are Not.” This collection of cartoons co-authored with Cynthia Wayman of West Tisbury, became an infamous Vineyard staple, satirizing Island life with good humor.
Through her work as a children’s librarian at the Vineyard Haven Public Library, Sally was inspired to create her first of many published children’s books. In 1986, she authored and illustrated “Charlie and Grandma” and “Molly and Grandpa.” Next to be published was “Punky Spends the Day” and “Punky Goes Fishing”, followed by “What Goes Around Comes Around” and “The Yawn Goes On.” She continued to illustrate children’s books by different authors as well. Sally also illustrated works by many Island friends and authors, including “The Magic Sea Glass of West Chop” by Constance Sanborn, “Touring Martha’s Vineyard with Judy Bigwheels” by Judith Bailow, and “Vineyard Tales” by Gale Huntington.
She was happily married to Dr. Eric Malcolm Dunkley, originally of Vineyard Haven, and long-time anesthesiologist for the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, on June 20, 1993. Their life together eventually led them to leave Martha’s Vineyard and establish residences in Naples, Florida and Sandwich. They continued to foster strong Vineyard ties, while occasionally traveling to Malcolm’s previous residences in Wales and Canada.
Sally’s last book for young readers, “The Anesthesiologist,” published in 1999, featured Dr. Dunkley in photographs by longtime friend Jackie Baer of Vineyard Haven. With her children grown, she had time to continue her artistic pursuits, continuing work on her unique oil painting, watercolors, mixed-media and collage, which appeared in numerous gallery exhibitions on the Vineyard and in Naples.
Music was also a lifelong love and pursuit for Sally. As a child she studied piano, and often entertained her children by “ripping off a tune” — anything from Chopin to Schumann to spirituals, always played with passion and cheer. She was self-taught on guitar and accordion. She also sang throughout her life, most notably with the Grace Church Choir in Vineyard Haven, the Florida-based a cappella women’s group called Six of Hearts and the Voices of Naples chorus, as well as numerous “Messiah” performances and Christmas Carol sing-a-longs around the piano at home.
Sally was a great mother. The kind of mother other kids wanted for their own. She had a wonderful way of making a house a home with whatever space she had to work with. She loved to cook and have family and friends over for gatherings. She always wanted to include others who might otherwise have to be alone. She enjoyed decorating her home for festive occasions as well and loved having a spirit of joy and giving. She could always be found knitting something for someone and was always happy to draw a picture of something she would otherwise be explaining with words.
Though she lost her year-long struggle with lymphoma, she never lost her spirit, nor her clever and contagious good humor. She never stopped creating, continually drawing, filling dozens of journals and finishing stacks of manuscripts before her death. She cherished the love she received from her large extended family, as well as her many good friends. She passed on many of her creative gifts to her children and grandchildren, and she delighted in her role as their number one champion and supporter. Her larger-than life presence, sharp wit, and bright smile will be missed by all who had the privilege to know her.
Sally was predeceased by her parents and brother, John Gibbons. She leaves her husband, Malcolm Dunkley of Naples, Florida, sister, Molly Marx and her husband, Arthur, of West Tisbury, and her children, Molly Conole and husband, Bob Dutton, of Winter Park, Fla., Linda Fandel of Oak Bluffs, and Jonathan Ward of Los Angeles. She also leaves Malcolm’s three children, Christopher, Ann, and Robert; her sister-in-law, Judy Gibbons, and her grandchildren, Rachel Phillips, Amelia and Penelope Dutton, Griffin and Truman Dunkley, and Rosalyn and Owen Dunkley, nieces Connie Marx Dahlen and Sarah Gibbons Dunn, nephew John B. Gibbons Jr. and a great grandson, Liam Jackson Phillips, as well as numerous extended family and beloved friends.
A memorial service will be held on July 21, 2012, at 2 pm, at Grace Episcopal Church in Vineyard Haven, with a reception to follow. In lieu of flowers, gifts to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, or one of the many good causes Sally supported, would be much appreciated.