A farewell tribute to Linda Marinelli
Linda Marinelli, who's lived in Oak Bluffs 57 years, is leaving the Island. A controversial Island political figure, Ms. Marinelli, 78, her daughter Charlene, son-in-law Tim Maciel and family will be moving this month to a home in Mashpee they have purchased together. Ms. Marinelli has applied for a job as a greeter at Wal-Mart in Falmouth.
The indefatigable Ms. Marinelli - a wife and mother, entrepreneur, and passionate community leader for decades - has a well-chronicled, larger-than-life personality that makes a simple definition impossible.
Ms. Marinelli developed her fair share of adversaries during her career as an outspoken citizen, selectman, school, finance, and board of health committee member, and in her role in a host of other official and unofficial public sector jobs. In 2002, at the age of 71, she wrote an autobiographical Island bestseller, "Never Say Die: The Private Life and Political Thunder of a Dying Breed," a book that took no political prisoners and chronicled her position as town government's top-ranking loyal opposition.
But no enemies were among the dozens of people who filled the Portuguese-American Club last Friday night to wish her well, just solid year-rounders. Town officials came, like selectmen Kerry Scott and Ron DiOrio and business leaders like realtor Alan Schweikert were there. Edgartown builder Kevin Cusack, commenting on her biography, said, "Best winter reading I'd had in 20 years."
Oak Bluffs resident Sara Crafts, a prime mover in arranging the potluck event, said, "I've waited nearly 40 years to give something back to her," as she watched her friend greet well-wishers.
"I was here, with two kids and no job," Ms. Crafts said. "She was the only person who would hire me, shucking scallops. I wasn't good at it. Didn't know how to do it. Linda shucked her scallops into my bucket so I could make some money."
The evening felt a bit like a local political rally, the sort of event that's been held in America's neighborhood gathering spots for a few hundred years. But this crowd wasn't there for what they hoped to get, or to support an agenda. They came to thank Ms. Marinelli for her help in making their lives better. One by one, they thanked her Friday night, describing a litany of simple and extraordinary acts of kindness.
Born in 1931 at the depth of the Depression, Ms. Marinelli was the youngest of 12 children of a truck farmer from Berkley. She came to the Island in the early 1950s, "to recoup from a divorce," she said, with a new daughter and a passion for a new life.
Several years later she met and married Charles Dominic Marinelli. They lived in a small house in Oak Bluffs, raised two more daughters, and began Marinelli Farm. "There was no plumbing or electricity," she recalled to the gathering. "Charlie rigged up this foot-pedal generator that would produce just enough electricity for an hour at a time. 'Bonanza' was the big TV show then and that show was the only thing we watched all week, Charlie pedaling away to generate power to the TV."
Ms. Scott offered a Marinelli Farm story: "My mother would not buy tomatoes anywhere but at Marinelli Farm off County Road. Linda was always there. One day we went and there was a sign on the gate: 'Back in a few hours.' So we went back and there was Linda, working away. Mom said 'Where were you, Linda?' and Linda said: 'I had the baby. It's a girl.'"
In the 1970s, the Marinellis entered the scalloping business in a big way, loading as much as 1,500 pounds of meat into an old Whiting Milk truck that Charlie had converted into a freezer and selling it "door to door" to Cape Cod stores and restaurants.
Ms. Marinelli's fearsome reputation preceded her election to the school committee, Ms. Scott said. "We thought she'd be - 'Cut, cut, cut.' What we found is that she would listen to both sides, and change her mind when the facts dictated it."
Long-time resident Jackie McGillicuddy said she appreciated Ms. Marinelli's accessibility: "Whenever you had a problem or question, you could call Linda - or on Wednesday, you could go to Cathy's Coiffures off Circuit Ave. She was there getting her hair done."
"She was controversial, no doubt about it, but she always had the best interests of Oak Bluffs in her heart," Ms. Crafts said.
Perhaps the biggest controversy, and ultimately a major boon to the town, was the legal struggle decided by the State supreme court that opened a town-owned harbor beach, now called Marinelli Beach, which for years had been reserved for use as a private beach club.
The suit resulted from a laborious search by Ms. Marinelli through town documents going back to the 1930s that proved that Oak Bluffs, not the beach club, owned the section of beachfront.
Ms. Marinelli said her sleuthing made her a devotee of town papers. She has 175 moving boxes packed; some containing documents going back to 1918. "I've given the fire department records to the new fire department museum," she said.
Ms. Marinelli made no mention of it, but she is battling severe illness. Her spirit is undaunted, and she falters only when speaking of her 48-year marriage that ended with Charlie's death two years ago. "He couldn't figure out why I was involved in politics. He'd say: 'You fix something here and they just go over there and break something else,'" she said, smiling. "I hate lies. I need to be around truth-tellers. I've made both enemies and forever friends. It all works out. I hold no grudges."
Daughter Charlene Maciel said: "She taught me how to be dedicated and strong."
Daughter Diane Droth added, "Don't give up. Fight for what you believe in."
Jack Shea is a regular contributor to The Times.