Walter Eugene Delaney, who served his adopted town of Aquinnah in multiple capacities — longtime fire chief, selectman, and town meeting moderator for 36 years — died of carcinoma of the lung and liver August 26 with his daughter Gayle by his side. He was 84.
Walter moved in June from his beautiful Aquinnah home that overlooked Vineyard Sound, escorted out of town by the Aquinnah Fire Department, the Aquinnah Police Department, and many well-wishers along the way. The last several months he lived at the Brightview Arlington Assisted Living Community in order to be closer to his family.
Walter was born on December 29, 1929, in Boston, the only child of Walter A. Delaney and Mary E. (Winters) Delaney. He was raised in Woburn and lived in Medford. He attended the St. Charles School and graduated from the Medford Vocational High School (printing) in 1948.
He married Nancy A. Hall on December 23, 1951, after one year of courtship. Nancy had also attended Medford High School. They spent two weeklong vacations at a friend’s cottage on the Vineyard before they decided to purchase their own summer retreat in 1960. With their infant daughter, Gayle, they divided their time between their home in Woburn and their cottage on the north shore of what was once Gay Head.
Walter worked in newspapers, then press manufacturing for several years before he opened his own business, the Walter E. Delaney Company. He spent nearly forty years repairing and calibrating printing presses. Nancy was the bookkeeper for their company.They retired to the Vineyard full-time in 1991 but not before Walter had made a name for himself in the community. Over the years, Walter served as a Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank commissioner, town auditor, vice-chairman of the Gay Head taxpayers’ association, and a member of the Conservation Commission. At the state level, he served as a board member on the Hearing Committee of the Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers as well as on the board of the Massachusetts Moderators Association.He was elected to the Gay Head board of selectmen and served nine years, from 1990 to 1999. He was elected Gay Head Fire Chief in 1994, a position he held until his retirement in November 2011. He was the recipient of many plaques and awards over the years in recognition of his many accomplishments.
He would often recall the years when the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) was trying to gain federal acknowledgement as some of the most interesting and most challenging. It was then that he started to get a little more involved in town politics. He recalled a meeting on November 19, 1985, when the town finally voted to support the tribe in its bid for federal acknowledgement.
Just prior to the special town meeting and the final vote, Massachusetts passed a law that allowed television cameras, previously barred, to be present in open meetings.Aquinnah was the first town in the Commonwealth to allow cameras and national broadcasters ABC, NBC, and CBS descended upon the town. His interest in the tribe was evident in the fact that he retained the original issues of the Vineyard Gazette during those years.
Walter’s role as a small town moderator began in May 1975 when he received a 7 am telephone call. Local real estate broker Nell Howell had two questions: Did he plan to attend town meeting that night, and if so, would he accept the nomination of moderator?
Thus began his career as town moderator for the next 36 years. How it came about, he had no idea, but he was nominated from the floor that evening and took out election papers prior to the next annual town election.
It took him a while to adjust to town meeting as it once operated and it took him a couple of years to get used to the people in town. They were very respectful of him.
Things were very different then. The first town budget that passed under his gavel was just shy of $175,000. In May 2010 the budget voters approved was nearly $3 million.”That just goes to show how the town grew,” he said, and he grew right along with it from a summer resident to a seasonal resident and then to a year-round resident.
Walter was always fair. As town moderator he presided over many, many meetings in his signature red sweater. Row by row he allowed voters an orderly platform from which to speak on controversial issues, and he gave voters at least two and sometimes three opportunities to speak, depending on the topic. Having decided not to run for re-election, in May 2010 he presided over his last town meeting. After turning the gavel over to Michael Hebert, Walter joined his wife Nancy in the audience for the first time in 35 years.
Over his tenure, major issues included the change of the town name from Gay Head to Aquinnah and town approval of the settlement agreement with the Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe that ended years of litigation between the governments. He oversaw the enactment of numerous land-use regulations and the creation of the town-wide Aquinnah District of Critical Planning Concern.As a member of the Land Bank Commission, he led the way for the acquisition and preservation of important properties throughout the Island. His advice was simple and direct, “Residents need to get more involved, to fill all these committees that need volunteers, especially the finance committee.” Walter and Nancy both served the Aquinnah community very well with its best interests at heart.
On November 13, 2011, more than 100 people that included Aquinnah firefighters, town officials and residents, and fire chiefs and public safety officials from across the Vineyard attended the potluck dinner at the Aquinnah town hall to honor Walter for his 17 years of dedication as the Aquinnah Fire Chief. In recognition of his retirement, letters of appreciation were read from members of the Legislature and from Congressman William Keating. A member of the United States Navy Reserves during the 1950s and fire fighting instructor, he was presented with an American flag that had flown over the Capitol building in Washington, D.C.
Walter was predeceased by his beloved wife, Nancy, on July 10, 2013. He is survived by his devoted daughter, Gayle M. Delaney, and her husband Andrew Dineen and their son, Raymond Dineen, who was most cherished by his grandparents.
Private services were held on September 4 at Lynch-Cantillon Funeral in Woburn. Remembrances made be made in the name of Walter E. Delaney to the Aquinnah Fire Department, 63 State Road, Aquinnah, MA02535.