Appreciation – Mike Renahan


To the Editor:The Chilmark board of health would like to pay tribute to the long and dedicated service of Mike Renahan, who served on the board from 1995 until his untimely death in October 2012. Throughout these years, Mike’s vast experience in the building trades, his intimate knowledge of the town and its citizens, and his devotion to their welfare marked his tenure on the Chilmark board of health.

Mike joined fellow board members Matthew Poole and Liz Gude, following the resignation of Dennis Jason. Bill Elbow was the staff. This was the year of the “new Title 5,” and there was plenty of work for the board: the Tisbury septage lagoons reached capacity and were shut down, requiring a complete reworking of our sewage treatment and disposal options; the Chilmark Landfill was closed and capped, and as Chilmark representative to the Martha’s Vineyard Refuse Disposal and Resource Recovery District, Mike Renahan played a pivotal role in the district, which Chilmark joined together with Edgartown, West Tisbury, and Aquinnah.

Smoking was prohibited in restaurants (remember when that was a big deal?), and emergency preparedness, in particular, preparing for dispensing of medications in the event of a bioterrorist attack or pandemic emergency, took its place in the long list of public health responsibilities. Amidst all these trends toward greater Island integration, Mike always insisted on maintaining a local priority for Chilmark. In fact, only weeks before his death, he was busy planning a Chilmark flu clinic, to be held at the Community Center, so that Chilmark residents would have the option to be served at home.

In 1998, longtime board member Liz Gude stepped down, and Katie Carroll stepped up to the plate. In the same year, veteran staff member Bill Elbow retired, and Sylvia Brown (soon to be Yeomans) joined the health department. Both were new to public health and were rigorously trained by Mike and Matt. When Sylvia in turn retired in 2008, Mike intrepidly took on yet another public health novice and trained this writer to manage the Chilmark Health Department.

In 2006, Matt Poole left the board, and the board welcomed incoming member Jan Buhrman. And it was to Matt Poole that Mike turned when he realized that he faced serious medical issues and would probably not be able to serve out his term. He was determined to see the board left in capable hands and prevailed upon Matt to rejoin for the duration of his term, which ends in 2014.

To his fellow board members and staff, Mike was fair and consistent. While he demanded high standards, he was careful not to dominate proceedings, despite his far greater experience in many areas of the board’s work. Even when he seemed to be shooting from the hip, his aim was remarkably accurate, and in those rare instances when it wasn’t a bull’s-eye, he was anything but close-minded. If you managed to convince him of something, he was never afraid to admit he may have been wrong and to change his position and his actions to what he deemed to be right. He generated enormous loyalty, affection, and respect in the people who worked most closely with him, and that is a legacy to be proud of.

Marina Lent