Obituaries

Posted June 29, 2006

Billy M. Jackson

Billy Morrow Jackson died on June 16 at Provena Covenant Medical Center in Urbana, Ill.

A renowned artist, his thought-provoking work is displayed in galleries around the world: National Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, NASA National Archives, Library of Congress, and many more. After retiring from the University of Illinois as a professor of art after over forty years, he reached professor emeritus status. Recently, he co-authored the book, "On This Island, An Artist's View of Martha's Vineyard." In 1990, Howard E. Wooden completed a very complex, beautiful text providing an overview of his life work entitled "Billy Morrow Jackson: Interpretations of Time and Light". This was the closest representation of his artistic genius. However, seeing his work in person is moving beyond words.

Through his art, at times he was an activist, striving and succeeding at inspiring, provoking thought by creating controversial, passionate, in-your-face commentary on societies ills. He fought oppression, racism and hatred without words, but by utilizing art as his "weapon" towards education, peace and tolerance.

However, this is only one aspect of his diverse styles, mediums, and ideals his genius portrayed. He is known for depicting the not commonly realized pristine beauty of the prairie; landscape scenes on the East Coast, capturing the character(s) and beauty of Martha's Vineyard; in-depth murals that are so complex the viewer may require textbooks on science, math, history and/or literature just to begin to comprehend his vision; portraits captured illuminating personalities through a simple pose; use of light in his still life work was simply brilliant (pun intended). His artwork improved the quality of people's lives through powerful images that changed hearts and minds of many for the better.

Billy Morrow Jackson was also a loving, sensitive, courageous, son, father, grandfather, brother, and devoted husband. That he was a Caucasian man that was married to a woman of color during a turbulent time of racial divide in this country also provides insight to his admirable character. His love for people of all creeds was proven by his deeds.

On the lighter side, his sharp, quick-witted and sometimes extremely corny humor was delightful. Anyone that knew him personally enjoyed his ability to make others laugh. He was understated and somewhat mysterious. While he worked very hard to support his family during the academic year, he would drive them 1000 miles from Illinois to a rural town on Martha's Vineyard every summer. That's when and where his children would have quality time with their parents. Teaching them to swim, fish, and taking long walks along the beach collecting sea glass and sharing splendid conversations.

This brave, passionate, contemplative, courageous man was my Daddy. Although he lived 80 full years, he will be greatly missed. If you have an opportunity to view some of his work, I encourage you to do so.

Billy Jackson is survived by his wife of 19 years, Mariah Jackson; his ex-wife of 38 years, Blanche Mary Jackson along with their children: Lon Allen Jackson of Champaign, Ill., Robin Todd Jackson of Champaign, Ill., Aron Drew Jackson of Aquinnah, and Sylvia Marie Jackson of Boston; their grandchildren: Celeste Glende of Seattle, Wash.; Adria Tarleton of Los Angeles, Calif.; Maria Hodges of Tolono, Ill.; and Matthew Jackson.

Billy Morrow Jackson crossed over on June 16 at Provena Covenant Medical Center in Urbana, Ill. Mariah Jackson had a graveside burial for Billy Jackson at Mount Hope Cemetery in Champaign, lll., on June 20.

Louise R. Bacon

Louise R. (Olsen) Bacon of Chilmark and Edmond, Oklahoma, died on June 23 at Mercy Health Center in Oklahoma City, Okla. She was 83. Her graveside service will be held in Abel's Hill Cemetery, South Road, Chilmark on Saturday, July 1 at 4 pm officiated by the Rev. Arlene Bodge.

Arrangements are under the care of the Chapman, Cole & Gleason Funeral Home, Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road, Oak Bluffs. Visit www.ccgfuneralhome.com for online guest book and information.

William H. Y. Stevens

William Henry Yale Stevens, 87, died on June 22 at his home in Dunnellon, Fla. Mr. Stevens built a home on Martha's Vineyard in 1949.

A full obituary will appear in a future edition of The Times.

Nicholas C. Drake

Nicholas C. Drake, 22, of Edgartown died unexpectedly on June 24 at the Martha's Vineyard Hospital. He was the beloved son of Jody Drake of Edgartown. He is survived by his maternal grandmother, Winifred Drake of Edgartown, and his half-sisters, Caitlin Drake and Jennifer Lehman both of Edgartown. His father Richard Lehman predeceased him in July, 2004.

A graveside service is tentatively scheduled for Saturday, July 15 in the Gay Head Cemetery. Details will follow with a full obituary.

Donations may be made in his memory to the Vineyard House, P.O. Box 4599 or to Martha's Vineyard Community Services, 111 Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road, both in Vineyard Haven, MA 02568. Arrangements are under the care of the Chapman, Cole & Gleason Funeral Home, Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road, Oak Bluffs. Visit www.ccgfuneralhome.com for online guest book and information.

Robert H. Kuehn

Robert H. Kuehn died on June 15. On June 21, hundreds of mourners filled the grassy quadrangle at West End Place in downtown Boston to celebrate the life of Robert H. Kuehn, a prominent developer of affordable housing and a leading light in the rehabilitation of our nation's historic buildings.

Bob Kuehn was born on October, 27, 1942 in Minneapolis. He graduated from Minneapolis North High School in 1960. He was President of the Student Council and class valedictorian. He graduated from Yale University in 1964 and attended Yale's school of architecture. Bob enjoyed designing buildings but soon realized that what ultimately gets built has less to do with the architect than with the whims of the money man, the developer. Combining this insight with a growing concern that suitable places to live be provided for all Americans, Bob decided to specialize in affordable housing. In 1968, he earned a double degree - a master's in urban studies and another in architecture from Yale. In 1969 he was a Fulbright Scholar at the University of London.

Old unused buildings seemed to call to Bob. In 1976, Bob founded Keen Development Corporation and began to specialize in the rehabilitation of historic buildings and their conversion to mixed-income housing. He was especially adept at finding innovative sources of funding and inventing new ways to work with community organizations to achieve mutually beneficial goals.

In 1994, Bob learned that a single parcel of land might be available in Boston's West End for mixed income housing. He was fascinated by the prospect of bringing life back into the old neighborhood. He thoroughly researched its history and he went so far as to contact families who had formerly lived in the West End. Bob was so pleased with the success of this project that he chose to live in West End Place.

Bob was convinced that the life of any great town or city depended on the vitality that artists brought to their community, and he worked hard to create places for them to live and work. In Cambridge, for example, he helped a community of artists purchase and renovate Fenway Studios, which became a business model for future artists' cooperatives.

Among Bob's most daunting projects was the renovation of one of Boston's most infamous housing projects, Columbia Point. Now called Harbor Point, the successful mixed income community comprises 1,283 rental apartments.

Bob was a teacher at heart, donating his time to worthy groups as well as serving on the faculty of prestigious educational institutions. He was a Lecturer at the Tufts Urban and Environmental Policy Program and the MIT Department of City Planning, a Research Associate at the Harvard Business School and an Instructor at the Yale Department of City Planning.

To relax, Bob played poker with a group of close friends, fished and flew his single engine airplane on trips between his homes in Maine, Boston, Martha's Vineyard and Key West. In 1990 and 1993, he joined his brother Tom - a professional pilot - and together they flew a small plane across the United States.

"I'd guess Bob's idea of a perfect day would be to fly his plane to a remote fishing site, catch some huge fish, eat them, and then play poker for five hours with his friends while listening to the Red Sox on the radio," says Dick Johnson, who grew up with Bob In Minneapolis and was a life-long friend.

Bob first came to the Vineyard in 1960 and he returned often for visits until, in 1998, he purchased a home in Harthaven. From that point on, the Vineyard was a favorite spot. He loved to fish the shoals off Wasque and the grounds on the eastern edge of the Island. He became a savant of smoking bluefish and striped bass.

On the Island, he quickly joined the efforts of affordable housing advocates. He was a founding member of the non-profit Island Affordable Housing Development Corporation in 2001, which was transformed in 2004 into the Island Housing Trust Corporation. He played an active role in the formation of the Martha's Vineyard Housing Bank Coalition and also was a board member and former vice president of the Island Affordable Housing Fund.

For the past four years, Bob has been providing pro bono assistance to Bridge Housing Corporation, in their efforts to build Bridge Commons, 30 homes on a 24-acre parcel of land on State Road in Vineyard Haven. "Bob Kuehn was incredibly supportive of affordable housing on the Vineyard as well as elsewhere," said Bridge Housing President Dick Mezger. "He was wise and experienced and skilled and always offered excellent advice and insights."

In recognition of Bob's particular affection for the Penny Lane project in Edgartown, the board of the Island Affordable Housing Fund will rename the project in his honor.

Bob was an advisor to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Massachusetts Housing Finance Agency, the Architectural Conservation Trust, Boston Foundation for Architecture and the Community Preservation Coalition. He was on the board of directors of the Boston Architectural Center, the Citizens' Housing and Planning Association, Historic Massachusetts, Inc, Massachusetts Cultural Council, Massachusetts Special Commission on Historic Preservation and the Mayor's Advisory Panel on Housing in Boston.

Donations in Bob's memory can be made to Bob's Foundation, the Keen Charitable Foundation at 2 University Road, P.O. Box 382589, Cambridge, MA 02238.

Bob is survived by his brother, Thomas Kuehn of Albuquerque, New Mexico, his sister-in-law, Cori, and his nephew, Robert.

Clark W. McBride

Clark W. McBride of Edgartown died on June 20 at the Martha's Vineyard Hospital. He was 54. A graveside service will be held at a later date and a full obituary will appear then. Arrangements are under the care of the Chapman, Cole and Gleason Funeral Home, Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road, Oak Bluffs. Visit www.ccgfuneralhome.com for online guest book and information.

Rodman F. Backus

Rodman F. Backus, for many years the owner of Rod's Flower Shop and Nursery, died on June 23, at his home on Pine Street in Tisbury where he resided, ran his business, and raised a family for the past 58 years. He was 82 years old.

With twinkling blue eyes, a gregarious wit, a contagious smile, and overwhelming generosity, Rod became an iconic figure in Tisbury and on the Island.

He loved to engage anyone and everyone in conversation and shared his love for life through his wonderful stories.

Rod was born on June 14, 1924 in Pittsfield, the son of Anna Cornelia Hall and Rodman F. Backus Sr. He moved to Fall River at the age of ten where he later attended Bristol County Agricultural School. Rod first came to the Island at age 16 for a summer internship at Blatchford Landscaping, returning each summer until he entered the Army in 1945.

Rod nobly served his country during World War II as a sergeant in the 63rd Infantry Division. In 1945, he received the Bronze Star Medal for heroism by crawling 40 yards under German machine gun fire to rescue a wounded comrade. In 1946, he received the Distinguished Unit Badge for leading an attack on an enemy machine gun base. Later that year, he returned home on the Queen Mary, which was being used to ferry service personnel back from Europe.

In 1946, Rod moved to the Island, and in February 1947, with an initial payment of $50, he bought the majestic house and four-acre plot that sits atop the hill at the end of Centre Street. Walking across the wooden bridge the town used to put up after heavy rains at the corner of Centre and Main, he first glimpsed the beautiful local girl who would become his wife. "I'm going to marry that girl," he said to himself. True to his word, he and Hilda Jardin were married in November of that year. For the next 58 years Hilda and Rod provided a home for relatives, friends, and tenants at the '"top of the hill."

The first 16 years of his Island career Rod spent working for "old man" Jimmy Morris at his flower shop on State Road in Tisbury. In 1963, Rod went into business for himself, establishing a quaint flower shop and nursery on his property. He also provided his daughters with a barn in which horses were kept...for the most part. It was not unusual to get a call at the Backus household at 2 am from the Tisbury police, "Rod, can you please come get your horses. They were last seen heading down Main Street."

Rod was very much a part of the Island community. He was a volunteer fireman, Boy Scout leader, and prominent member of the Holy Ghost Society. Rod was seven times the commander of the American Legion in Tisbury. For years he was a lector at St. Augustine's Catholic Church, where his thunderous, baritone singing voice was legendary. His devotion to his military service was also evident in church where, often to the consternation of his children, he proudly clicked his heals together and stood at attention before entering a pew.

After retiring from the garden business, Rod took a job at the Steamship Authority loading and unloading the luggage carts for travelers. He loved his work there and soon became known as "Captain Luggage," a title he embraced. His "Captain Luggage" T-shirts can still be seen on the occasional Island visitor.

Rod is survived by his wife, Hilda R. Backus; three daughters, and one son - Carol Osborn of Tisbury; Patricia Chaudhuri of Chester, N.H.; Rhonda Backus of Edgartown, and Rodman Backus III of Chilmark; his brother, Edward Backus of Idaho, and his sister Anita Cimino of Oak Bluffs; seven grandchildren, five step-grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren.

Visiting hours will be held at the Chapman, Cole and Gleason Funeral Home in Oak Bluffs on Friday, June 30, from 6 to 8 pm. A graveside military service provided by the Veterans of Martha's Vineyard will be held at the Oak Grove Cemetery, State Road, Vineyard Haven at 11 am on Saturday, July 1. It will be officiated by Father Michael Nagle. A gathering at Vineyard Haven American Legion Hall will follow. All are welcome.

Donations in memory of Rod may be made to Vineyard Nursing Association, P.O. Box 2568, Oak Bluffs, MA 02557; the American Legion Post 257, P.O. Box 257, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568; Hospice of Martha's Vineyard, P.O. Box 2549, Oak Bluffs, MA 02557 or the charity of your choice. Arrangements are under the care of the Chapman, Cole & Gleason Funeral Home, Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road, Oak Bluffs. Visit www.ccgfuneralhome.com for online guest book and information.