Denys Wortman: A new lease on life
Just over a month ago, Denys Wortman, cofounder and president of the board of directors of Martha's Vineyard Community Television (MVTV), found himself where no one wants to be - in the back of an ambulance racing to Massachusetts General Hospital. For some time, the former Boston investment advisor had been plagued by chest pains, and once it reached the point where he found himself kneeling on the floor, he decided a visit to the doctor was in order. The indefatigable 71-year-old former Tisbury selectman (2006-2009) - also a board member of Featherstone Center for the Arts and Tisbury Waterways (TWI) and member of the Tashmoo Spring Building Restoration Committee - was then whisked off-Island for what became successful bypass surgery.
In hindsight, Mr. Wortman remembers deciding not to run for selectman, instead supporting Vineyard Haven attorney Geoghan Coogan's successful bid - a decision that he now wonders might have saved his life: "Maybe back then I knew something deep down that I didn't want to admit to myself at the time. Sometimes things happen for a reason."
He adds, "It was a wake-up call that you have to change some of your lifestyle and eating habits. Unfortunately, I may have to put aside fried oysters, which I love, but you come through it and say 'OK, I have a new lease on life and let's not screw it up.'"
It is a philosophy that duplicates his father's, nationally famous cartoonist Denys Wortman, who began coming to the Island in 1890, and in 1941, after recovering from a major heart attack, moved the family from New York City to Chilmark. (Mr. Wortman is helping archive his father's 9,000 cartoons for The Center for Cartoon Studies in Vermont.)
After graduating the Tisbury High School (1957) and Wentworth Institute of Technology (1960), Mr. Wortman (eighth in the family to carry the name Denys) spent the next 40 years as a stockbroker in Boston. In 1996, taking a page from his father's sketchbook, Mr. Wortman realized that the Island was where he wanted to be, bought back his childhood home in Hines Point from Tom Hale, and two years later with his wife Marilyn, moved to the Island full-time.
"It was almost like a dream too good to be true," Mr. Wortman says. "You'd pinch yourself and ask, 'Is this really true?' and the answer was 'Yes.' And it was all so natural because it brought back so many memories. I was very sure that I was going to be happy here, but the biggest question was would my wife be happy here? Well, she really took to it and is very happy."
Much like her husband, Marilyn Wortman quickly became a community activist, working as a personnel and parks administrator for the town of Edgartown, volunteering at the Thrift Shop, serving on the boards of the Vineyard Haven Public Library and the YMCA, and singing with Island Community Chorus.
Theirs is a shared philosophy. Mr. Wortman explains that he has always believed in trying to help others and trying to get people to work together.
"I think that is very important, always trying to get a consensus, a team effort, where people can get work done," he says. "And it's so important living on an island, which is getting back to my dad's philosophy; we're self-sufficient and living here is its own little universe. If we all work together, it is a wonderful place."
Asked what he would like to pass along to the next generation, Mr. Wortman says: "Try to use your head and think about what's right."
And for himself, he says, "I think I will have more energy and there may become different priorities, as to what comes first - though I'm not quite sure what they all are yet. No matter what age you are, some people think they are immortal, but after something like this, you think, okay, this could have been bad, but we caught it and I got a second chance. Now, what do I want to accomplish in what time I have left?"
Brien Hefler is a freelance writer who divides his time between Baltimore and the Vineyard.