Homeward bound, Island woman dies in mainland crash
Penelope H. Dickens spent a good day in Boston and Cambridge Monday. She learned there was no recurrence of the cancer she had battled. And she shopped for supplies in preparation for a new career teaching English as a second language.
Traveling home late Monday, Ms. Dickens, 57, of Oak Bluffs died in a single car accident on Route 495 in Wareham, when the 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee she was driving veered off the road, crashed into the woods and caught fire, according to police.
At approximately 8:10 pm, troopers from the State Police barracks in Bourne responded to reports of a one-car crash on Route 495 southbound just north of Route 195, Exit 1, in Wareham.
State Police, with the assistance of the State Police Crime Scene Services Section and the State Police Collision Analysis Reconstruction Section, continue to investigate the crash.
Late Monday, State Police from the Oak Bluffs barracks went to the home of James Gordon of West Tisbury, the owner of the car and a close friend of Ms. Dickens, to notify him of her death.
Mr. Gordon said he kept a car in Woods Hole and throughout the period of Ms. Dickens's treatments he accompanied her on her trips to area hospitals. He said the trip on Monday was her three-month checkup.
"We were supposed to go together because we always went together, and I had to work," he said. "So she took my car."
Mr. Gordon, a painting and wallpaper contractor, said he received a call about 7:40 pm. Ms. Dickens wanted to know what time the last boat left, he said. He told her 8:30 pm and advised her not to rush and to stay at the Falmouth Inn. They agreed she would call him when she got on the boat.
When he did not hear from her later that evening, he was worried. He drove to her house, but she was not there.
He had just walked into his house when the State Police arrived to deliver the tragic news and ask for help to contact family members.
He said what began as a romantic relationship ended and became a close friendship. "We found our place and we were so close ...I loved her more than anything in the world. She was just a good, good person."
Over the years, Ms. Dickens worked as a bookkeeper for several Island businesses. Most recently, she planned to start a new career teaching English as a second language.
As news of the car accident spread through the Vineyard community, Ms. Dickens's many friends mourned her loss. In conversations with The Times, friends and acquaintances described Ms. Dickens, who arrived on the Island aboard the yawl Zora in 1990, as a tireless community volunteer who lent her support and creative personality to many Island causes, including affordable housing and the Women's Health Network.
In June 2008, the tables were turned when friends organized a summer solstice fundraiser at Lola's Restaurant in Oak Bluffs to support Ms. Dickens, then in her third year battling breast cancer.
On Sunday, Mr. Dickens helped her friend Roxanne Kapitan of Oak Bluffs celebrate a birthday. Ms. Kapitan said Ms. Dickens had taken control of her own medical treatment to beat breast cancer. It was obvious, she said, that Ms. Dickens had turned a corner. "The tragedy of it was that she was starting over," she said. "She got certified this year to teach English as a second language and had a clean bill of health, a new career opportunity, a new place to live and was just so full of life."
Yesterday, Deborah Medders of Vineyard Haven and Mr. Gordon traveled to the State Police barracks on the mainland to pick up Ms. Dickens' belongings.
Ms. Medders, who rented to Ms. Dickens for six years, said what stood out was the "tenacity" she brought to everything she did, whether battling breast cancer or volunteering to help Katrina survivors, or support affordable housing.
"And she did all of this with that larger than life personality that we will all come to memorialize and remember her by," she said.
In a telephone conversation yesterday from his home in Florida, Erik Dickens spoke about his sister's love of life and of the Vineyard. "I think that Martha's Vineyard is a unique community," he said. "And my sister fit that personality very well and she had tremendous support there, which is one of the reasons we want to have the memorial there as well."
Mr. Dickens said that a date for the memorial has not been set. He added that he is grateful for all the help and messages of support he has received from many people on the Vineyard.