Obituaries

Posted November 9, 2006

William Clark Styron Jr.

William Clark Styron Jr.

William Clark Styron Jr. of Vineyard Haven and Roxbury, Conn., an acclaimed novelist, Pulitzer Prize winner, and one of the Vineyard's most distinguished literary figures, died on Nov. 1. Mr. Styron, who had been in ill health for some time, died of pneumonia. He was 81.

He was born in 1925, in Newport News, Va., the son of William Clark Styron, a shipyard engineer, and Pauline Margaret Abraham Styron. He grew up in Newport News and his Southern heritage was considered a significant influence in his work and reputation, although he moved far afield in his themes as his career progressed.

Mr. Styron had several books to his credit, along with many essays, reviews, short stories, and other shorter works. His book titles spanned some 40 years, from "Lie Down in Darkness" (1951), his first novel written when he was only 26, to the 1990 intensely personal work, "Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness." Along with his novels and his memoir, Mr. Styron published "The Quiet Dust and Other Writings" (1982), a collection which includes a number of his shorter pieces. A later collection, "Tidewater Morning: Three Tales from Youth" (1993) comprises three stories previously published in Esquire magazine.

Critics, readers, and his peers alike considered him among the best of the generation that followed Hemingway and Faulkner, according to an obituary written by Christopher Lehmann-Haupt and published in the New York Times on Nov. 2. The Times quotes Norman Mailer's comment in a telephone interview, "No other American writer of my generation has had so omnipresent and exquisite a sense of the elegiac."

"Lie Down in Darkness" which focused on the suicide of a young Southern woman, earned Mr. Styron good reviews and a reputation as an up and coming Southern writer in the footsteps of William Faulkner. But, the Times said, Mr. Styron was reluctant to be categorized as an heir to Faulkner. The young writer had already left the South behind in his life, having moved North in soon after graduating from Duke University in 1947. By 1952, he put his Southern past at an even greater distance, both in life and subject matter, traveling to Paris and Italy, writing a novella based on his experience in the United States Marine Corps, "The Long March" (1955). Back in the United States, he published "Set This House on Fire" (1960) about a group of Americans in Italy.

But his creative focus returned to the South as he wrote "The Confessions of Nat Turner" published in 1967. This fictional account of an actual violent uprising in 1831 led by Nat Turner, a slave, won the 1968 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the 1970 William Dean Howells Medal of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. The New York Times relates that although initial reviews of the book were positive, it later engendered bitter controversy, especially among certain black readers. Some charged that Mr. Styron had "misunderstood black language, religion, psychology and...produced a 'whitened appropriation' of our history."

"Sophie's Choice" (1979), the story of a Polish Catholic woman's struggles during and following her internment at Auschwitz, was the fruit of Mr. Styron's painstaking research into the Holocaust. It became an enormous best seller, won the 1980 American Book Award for fiction, and was made into not only an acclaimed motion picture but also an opera. Nonetheless it was the subject of some controversy. In response to one criticism, The Times reports, Mr. Styron responded that the Holocaust had transcended anti-Semitism, that 'its ultimate depravity lay in the fact that it was anti-human. Anti-life."

Mr. Styron, according to the Times, enjoyed an idyllic childhood, "doted on by his family, an early reader fascinated by words [who] made friends easily and happily explored the waterfront and environs of Newport News." He attended the Episcopal Christchurch School in Christchurch, Va., graduating in 1942. He enrolled in the Marine Corps reserve officer training program, began at conservative Christian Davidson College then transferred to Duke University. He spent about one year of active duty abroad, although he never saw combat, then was discharged from the Marines. He returned to Duke University and graduated in 1947.

The young writer won the Prix de Rome, which provided him with a year's expense paid residence at the American Academy in Rome in 1952. He first visited Paris where he met a number of expatriate American writers and was involved in the founding of The Paris Review. While at the American Academy, he became reacquainted with Rose Burgunder, whom he had previously met in Baltimore, her hometown. They were married in Rome in 1953.

The Styrons settled in Roxbury, Conn. and Mr. Styron dedicated himself to writing, albeit according to an unusual schedule. The New York Times describes his idiosyncratic work habits of rising late, spending days contemplating and attending to personal tasks, then settling down to write only in the late afternoons, perfecting short chunks of writing each day.

Their Vineyard life began in 1966, when they purchased a home on Vineyard Haven Harbor where they vacationed regularly and eventually began to live from springtime through October. The Styrons became well known on the Island, their circle of friends including many local and visiting writers and other notables, Lillian Hellman, Art Buchwald, Philip Roth, Carly Simon, John and Jacqueline Kennedy, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Mike Wallace, and Norman Mailer among them.

Despite the many joys and achievements of his life, Mr. Styron was afflicted with depression in 1985. The New York Times explains that after giving up alcohol, Mr. Styron turned to medications to alleviate mood disorders that ensued; a suicidal depression appeared to be a side effect of the medication, requiring hospitalization. As he recovered, although depression would recur several times, Mr. Styron wrote the best-selling "Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness" (1990).

Along with his wife, Rose, Mr. Styron is survived by his three daughters, Alexandra Styron of Brooklyn, Susanna Styron of Nyack, N.Y., and Paola Styron of Sherman, Conn.; his son, Thomas, of New Haven; and eight grandchildren.

After a private funeral service, memorial services will be held on the Island and in New York at a later date.

Donations may be made in Mr. Styron's memory to the Martha's Vineyard Hospital Building Fund, P.O. Box 1477 Oak Bluffs, MA, 02557. Arrangements are under the care of the Chapman, Cole & Gleason Funeral Home, Oak Bluffs.

NOTE: Much of the information in this obituary was taken from an obituary by Christopher Lehmann-Haupt published in the New York Times on Nov. 2.

Drusna R. Perlstein

Drusna Rose Perlstein died on Oct. 21. Drusna was an incredibly independent person who loved people and had a zest for life. She wanted to do everything and be everywhere and see everyone. She considered everyone a friend. Friends and family affectionately called her Sistie or Sis.

Sis was born to Harry and Irene Perlstein on the Island on June 26, 1934 and lived here most of her life. She attended the Tisbury School and was active in 4H club and in Girl Scouts.

Drusna was married later in life to Frank Rocha, enjoying almost 20 years of marriage until Frank died. They were wonderful companions and totally devoted to each other, making a comfortable home for themselves at Hillside Village. They enjoyed the simple pleasures of life - eating meals together, doing errands, and watching the ferries come and go.

She enjoyed playing the piano, painting, and was never without her knitting. She loved animals and would sing to the birds that visited her window feeders.

Drusna did nothing halfway. Whatever she did she did fully. She loved to go to parties and get dressed up, and it would not be unusual for her to wear a dozen rings or pins and necklaces on a daily basis.

She loved to swim and spent many hours at Owen Park. She was active at the Tisbury Senior Center, attending lunch and many of the clubs and activities.

Most recently Drusna lived in Oak Bluffs and was supported by the many wonderful people of Martha's Vineyard Community Services.

She was predeceased by her parents Harry in 1958 and Irene in 1993, and by her brother Gerald on Nov. 23, 2000. Surviving are her sisters Leah (Perlstein) Allman of Peabody and Dennis, Jackie (Perlstein) Neel and her brother-in-law Thomas Neel of Belmont and Tisbury. She also leaves nephews Ronald Allman, Howard Perlstein, and Harrison Neel; and nieces Abigail Neel, Susan Wadsworth, and Maria Avellone; grandnieces Victoria Henricsson, Emily Allman; and grandnephew Reid Michal Wadsworth.

A graveside service took place on Oct. 24 at the Martha's Vineyard Hebrew Cemetery with Rabbi Caryn Broitman officiating. A reception followed at the Harbor View Hotel in Edgartown.

Donations in Drusna's memory can be made to the Tisbury Senior Center, P.O. Box 1239, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568. Arrangements are under the care of the Chapman, Cole & Gleason Funeral Home, Oak Bluffs.

Dorothy Brickman

The following is taken from the hesped (eulogy) of Dorothy Brickman given by Rabbi Caryn Broitman at the Martha's Vineyard Hebrew Center. Ms. Brickman died on Oct. 17.

Dorothy Brickman was the "first Jewess born on the Island."

She would introduce herself this way with great pride, and it indeed expressed a lot about what was most important to her.

It expressed her love of the Island. She was an "Islander through and through" as she used to say.

It expressed her devotion to Judaism and the passing on of Jewish heritage. Being a part of a group of Jewish pioneers trying to maintain their identity in a new place with little communal resources was a formative experience for Dorothy. She was passionate about maintaining our Jewish heritage both now and for future generations. She was totally devoted to the Hebrew Center and took great pleasure in seeing its growth over the years. She often told me how much it meant to her to see so many activities and people at the Center. And she made a point of telling me how she took great pleasure, as the first Jewess born on the Island, in welcoming me as the first woman Rabbi on the Island.

Dorothy had important connections with members of every age in the Hebrew Center. Nicole Cabot, our Hebrew School principal, would take the children to visit Dorothy, and they adored her. Last year, when we asked the children to write down the highlights of the school year, the activity most often mentioned was visiting Dorothy Brickman. They would bring her cards and Purim baskets and artwork and she would pass around her candy dish and tell stories.

One of the stories she told them went back to 1946, just after the war, when she founded and coordinated the volunteer program at the Beth Israel Hospital. Dorothy supervised 500 volunteers a week. During that time, there was a day when she was in her office and a doctor came to her office with some urgency. There was a young Jewish refugee girl from Europe who had survived the holocaust and was in the hospital. They couldn't get her to say a word and didn't know how to help her because she would not communicate. She spoke a different language and was traumatized. Could Dorothy help?

Dorothy went to the hospital room and saw a terribly frightened girl lying on the bed. Dorothy went up to the bed and said gently in Yiddish, "you're safe here." The young girl gave Dorothy a big smile and then was able to communicate. Dorothy's kindness had broken through. That image of the frightened girl and Dorothy's ability as a fellow Jew to touch her heart meant a lot to Dorothy and stayed with her to the end.

Perhaps it is not surprising that those years at the Beth Israel hospital were so important to her. Dorothy had wanted to be a doctor but in those days women were told this was not possible. Intent on a career of service, however, Dorothy carved out for herself an adventurous and meaningful career at a time when women had few role models or support for such a thing.

After graduating from Simmons College in Social Work in 1938 Dorothy volunteered for the Red Cross and the USO. When the war started she went to her parents and said, as she related to journalist C.K. Wolfson, "The boys in town are going to war. And you have brought me up to be very patriotic. I must go and do something for my country." Her parents responded: "Just do a good job." So she did go and spend the next 15 years with the USO in their education and culture department and traveled all over the world. She would tell me stories about being in the Far East and arranging Passover Seders for the Jewish soldiers and encouraging them to keep the traditions.

Dorothy continued her education, earning two masters degrees in social work and in education at Columbia University from 1957 to 1964 and then finished out her career working in college administration serving as the Foreign Student Advisor at Western College for Women and then as Director of the International Student and Scholar Services at Ohio State University.

Dorothy's career and studies took her all over the world including Japan, Korea, sub-Saharan Africa, the former Soviet Union, Copenhagen, Panama, Central and South America, Iran and Israel. With all of her travels, however, she continued to come to the Island almost every summer and help her family in the store and help the Hebrew center by establishing coordinating visits of guest rabbis and running a summer speakers' program that brought in such leaders as Abba Eban.

This past summer, as part of the Summer Institute Film Series, we showed Linsey Lee's film, "An Islander Through and Through." Dorothy, despite physical weakness because of a recent heart attack, was at the screening and spoke - perhaps not as long as she would have liked - but nevertheless delighted the audience with her wit and wisdom. Shortly after the film Dorothy wrote me a thank-you note for my presence there. Dorothy was always writing beautiful thank-you notes because she embodied the Jewish value of Hacarat haTov, acknowledging the good," Dorothy was the opposite of "entitled." She never took anything for granted and appreciated every kindness offered to her.

Dorothy's life was about service: to her family, to her Jewish heritage and community, to the Island, to her country. We thank God that she lived a long and full life and her death was peaceful and without pain, but we will miss her greatly, this unique eshes hayyil, this woman of valor, the first Jewess born on the Island, and a matriarch for us all.

Peter K. Clough

Peter Kipp Clough of Edgartown died on Nov. 7. A full obituary will appear in a future edition of The Times. Arrangements by Chapman, Cole, and Gleason Funeral Home, Oak Bluffs. Visit www.ccgfuneralhome.com for online guest book and information.

Robert E. Reilly

Robert E. Reilly, 31, of Vineyard Haven and formerly of East Wareham in Onset, died Nov. 7, in Connecticut. He was the husband of Stephanie C. (Townes) Reilly and father of Peyton Reilly. Also brother of Sheri Reilly of Sanford, Maine and Amanda Peckham of Akron, Ohio. His memorial service will be held on Saturday, Nov. 18, 2 pm, in the Chapman, Cole & Gleason Funeral Home, Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road, Oak Bluffs. A visitation will begin at 1 pm prior to the service. Donations may be made to his daughter, Payton Reilly's education fund, Dukes County Savings Bank, P.O. Box 188, Chilmark, MA 02535.