William M. Honey, 89, was an encouraging Vineyard banker
William Honey of West Tisbury, a gentle, sociable, principled, and encouraging banker, one of a dwindling number of Vineyard banking executives who made their careers here, died Tuesday afternoon. He was 89 years old, a few days shy of his 90th birthday.
Mr. Honey had retired from the presidency of what was the Martha's Vineyard National Bank in 1984, to an agricultural life, in which his steady and amiable devotion to his community and its history persisted.
He was a graduate of the Tisbury School, a self-taught banker who began his career as a teller - though he often said his first job involved sweeping the floors. He spent his working life at the same bank, and retired as the institution's long-time president.
As a young man, after his World War II service in the Army Air Corps, Mr. Honey was living and working at the Seaman's Bethel in Vineyard Haven, where the Steamship Authority ticket office is today. He earned $9 a week operating a sort of livery and chandlery service for the yachts and commercial vessels anchored in great numbers in the harbor. Stephen Carey Luce, chairman of the bank and a friend of Mr. Honey's family, stopped by to ask if the busy young man would like to come to work at the bank. Mr. Luce, a meticulous and imposing man, told Mr. Honey he could go off-Island for a year or two to school or begin work immediately at the bank. "I think you'll do better with me," the chairman added.
Mr. Honey agreed and signed up. Despite his lack of a college education or a master's degree in finance and business administration, the unpretentious Island banker served a term as president of the Massachusetts Bankers Association and drove himself to meetings of the Federal Reserve Bank in Boston in his old, clattery Land Rover.
Mr. Honey's banking education did extend to sweeping, and he recalled for his family that one morning, sweeping outside the stately entrance to the bank, he found a nickel on the tiles. Mr. Luce arrived, and the banker in training said, "Look, I've found a nickel." His mentor replied, "That belongs inside."
Later, in command of the bank, Mr. Honey's careful but enthusiastic commitment of bank funds to families that needed a house and small business people who needed start-up help nurtured the growth of the Vineyard economy during the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s. Bill Honey was the banker of whom many young Islanders often said, "He gave me my start."
The familiar and lovely main office of the bank, on Main Street in Tisbury, was built in 1905, on the site of Rudolphus Crocker's harness factory, where the 1883 fire that destroyed buildings on both sides of Main Street south to State Road began. The bank began as the Martha's Vineyard Bank of Edgartown, headquartered where the Edgartown National Bank is today, in the county seat and center of whaling activity.
During his presidency, Mr. Honey built the drive-up facility, down the hill from the main office, bordering on the town parking area. His inspired plan was to model the addition after the Main Street headquarters that had been built of plentiful Island stone by James Norton, a Vineyard stonemason. Mr. Honey's vision added somewhat to the bank expansion's design and construction costs, but contributed immeasurably to the bank's architectural presence in town.
Mr. Honey also organized the purchase and installation of decorative street lamps, of the sort that may be seen at Owen Park in Vineyard Haven. And, Mr. Honey, not yet a farmer but very fond of horses, town history, and riding, had the horse watering trough installed at the top of the lane leading from Main Street beside the bank to the waterfront. It is near where such a watering facility had been located a hundred years earlier.
After he left the bank in 1984, ownership passed through several hands, none of them local, until today it is owned by Grupo Santander, a Spanish banking corporation with global holdings.
William Morgan Honey was born September 26, 1919 in East Orange, New Jersey, to Henry Morgan Honey and Constance Daggett Lord. His father died when Mr. Honey was five, and his mother, whose Vineyard family roots extended into the 17th Century, moved to the Vineyard to live with her relations, whose family home was on William Street in Vineyard Haven. One of Mr. Honey's earliest memories was of arriving on the steamer at Vineyard Haven and being surprised that the ocean, which he expected to be blue, was green.
Mr. Honey grew up in Vineyard Haven, familiar with every street and alley of his hometown. He had a paper route along Chicken Alley, where he knew the woman who took in the washing from soldiers home from World War I. As a G.I. in the Army Air Corp during World War II, he added his own laundry to the lineup of duffel bags on the porch. He spent time at the Marine Hospital overlooking Lagoon Pond, where he learned macramé and a seaman's fancy rope work from the soldiers recuperating there. In later years, Mr. Honey added chair caning and the design and construction of "Nantucket baskets" to his list of skilled crafts.
In 1948, back from war, Mr. Honey married Eunice Coke-Jephcott of New York, a summer girl. Their marriage produced daughters Sarah Honey Murphy of West Tisbury, married to Fred Murphy, and Elizabeth Honey MacPherson of Vineyard Haven, whose husband, Robert G. MacPherson Jr. died in 1994. Both of Mr. Honey's daughters survive him. A son, David William Honey, died on August 7, 2005. Mr. Honey and Ms. Coke-Jephcott divorced in 1983. She also survives him.
In addition, Mr. Honey is survived by a sister, Elizabeth Ann Honey, who lives in the family house on William Street. For many years on her birthday, her brother gave her a gift certificate for a wagonload of plants from Heather Gardens to plant what she calls a Birthday Garden.
In 1978, Mr. Honey met Hilary Ann Blocksom of West Tisbury, a landscaper working on the bank property. Their deepening friendship was to last until his death. They never married. "It was never necessary," Ms. Blocksom said this week. "We didn't need to, we didn't need to own one another. Bill was really everyone's, and I wanted to share him."
"I was working as a landscaper," Ms. Blocksom remembered the day in 1978, when she became a banker. "Bill came outside and he said, 'Do you want a job?' He put me in charge of buildings and grounds at the bank, and then the mortgage department. I remember he told me, "We're not making any spec loans, we're helping people." In banking, and later, in his after-banking life, Mr. Honey enjoyed meeting and joining people in whatever they were up to. He was pleased and proud to have "held the door open," Ms. Blocksom says.
The lifelong partnership between Ms. Blocksom and Mr. Honey saw their interests align, as they devoted themselves to one another and to a changing collection of animals, including horses, cattle, and oxen, as well as vegetable and flower gardens. It was never an agricultural business, Ms. Blocksom explains, but a pleasure. Except, that is, when some or all of the flock, or herd escaped.
"There were a lot of horse-, sheep-, and lamb-capades," she said, smiling as her eyes filled.
Among his many pursuits in retirement, Mr. Honey became fascinated with antique engines, the economical, one-cylinder, magneto-start kind of engine that had oversized flywheels and open compartments for cooling water. Such engines could power a variety of agricultural machinery - pumps, elevators, shingle cutting machines, and the like - through easily constructed, adaptable belt drive systems. Mr. Honey and his fellow antique engine devotees hunted these engines down all over New England, reconditioned them, and swapped them and their parts at gatherings of like-minded old engine buffs.
As Hermine Hull of West Tisbury wrote in a 2006 article in The Martha's Vineyard Times, "Nineteen years ago, a group of friends approached the Martha's Vineyard Agricultural Society trustees with the idea of holding a show of old engines, tools, and farm equipment at the fairgrounds. Bill Honey, George Hartman, Dan West, Tommy Thomas, and Franklin Benson were the friends who saw the preservation of Martha's Vineyard's agricultural heritage in their collections. The Agricultural Society agreed, and they have been enthusiastic supporters and sponsors of the Antique Engine Show ever since."
Farmers with large animals spawn stories that veterinarians tell. In 2006, Times columnist Michele Gerhard Jasny described a visit years earlier to the Honey farm off Old County Road in West Tisbury, by Dr. Connie Breese to do a reproductive exam on Dolly, a Honey-owned Clydesdale
"In case you're not up on your large animal repro," Dr. Jasny writes, "one way we check cows and horses for pregnancy is by rectal exam. We're not talking a finger here. We're talking a plastic sleeve that covers the arm up to the shoulder. By gently passing a hand far up inside, a veterinarian can then push down and palpate the uterus that lies ventral to the rectum. Not every horse or cow appreciates this procedure ... Before Dr. Breese could even begin, Dolly kicked, sending Connie flying across the stall. 'Yup,' Bill said, 'She kicks like a mule sometimes.'
Nothing was broken, but Dr. Breese had a hoof-size bruise on her abdomen and hip. She stayed in bed for a couple of days, Dr. Jasny writes.
"Bill Honey drove me home after the kick,' Dr. Breese says. 'He wanted to know how he could find out if Dolly was pregnant. I told him to wait 10 months.'"
Mr. Honey had a broad acquaintance and participated in many organizations including the Barnacle Club and the American Legion. He served as the first treasurer of the Martha's Vineyard Regional School District, and he held that office until he retired from the bank.
Mr. Honey is also survived by grandchildren Ross Eben MacPherson of Duxbury; Annie Daggett Sylvia and husband Jake of Edgartown; Grace Lee Murphy of West Tisbury; Megan Lee Honey of Oak Bluffs; and Reid Morgan MacPherson of Vineyard Haven. He is also survived by a daughter-in-law, Laura W. Honey of Oak Bluffs.
A graveside service will be held Monday, at 1 pm, at the West Tisbury Cemetery, followed by a celebration of his life, at the Agricultural Hall. Chapmen Cole and Gleason are making arrangements. Donations in Mr. Honey's name are invited to Hospice of Martha's Vineyard and Vineyard House.