Obituary : Madeline Blakely Heath
Madeline died on her beloved Martha's Vineyard early Tuesday morning, December 1, 2009. Though not a native islander Madeline embraced island life and in turn it embraced her. She loved the land and sea, the environment and the tapestry of people who shared her sentiments about the island with whom she felt a kindred spirit. Born Madeline Mackinaw in 1923 in Brockton she spent much of her young life in New Hampshire, and graduated from Penacook High School in 1941, where she was the president of her graduating class.
She became a "War Bride", when she married in 1942 during the Second World War, and played her part in the war effort. As a riveter for Lockheed Aircraft in Burbank, California she installed cockpit radios in P-38 Lightning aircraft. She was a topographer at March Airfield, near Riverside, California, a key installation during the Pacific campaign, where she helped prepare aerial routing maps for top secret missions. During the war she traversed the U.S. thirteen times by train and recalled that new trains were used to transport soldiers so civilians traveled in re-conditioned old trains, all part of the war effort. She was a proud member in the P-38 National Association and enjoyed the connection with that time in her life and America.
Following the war she found herself back in Brockton and discovered the island on a trip to the Menemsha Inn in 1955, as the secretary to DeWolf Thompson. After her second season in Menemsha she and husband John Blakely purchased a small cottage nestled in the dune at Lobsterville. Life on the beach seemed simpler then. Miniature gas lights and a hand water pump in the kitchen were luxuries. They carried drinking water from the bubbling spring next to State Road in Gay Head. Until the cottage was sold in the 1960's, they commuted from Brockton each weekend and vacation from April through late October of each year.
When John died in 1976 Madeline moved to the island full-time. She rented a small apartment on Cromwell Lane in Vineyard Haven with Bran, a West Highland Terrier who would be her dear friend and companion for 12 years. It was fitting that she should live in what she learned was an old way station for weary sailors, certain to have sheltered and nourished some interesting characters. She imagined that some of them might have been her ancestors. Cromwell Lane is where she established her art studio and where she created her renowned glass etchings.
A self taught artisan, she perfected her craft of acid etching in brilliant flashed glass. Her works focused on Vineyard themes, especially historic and vintage sailing ships, which she sold at craft shows and shops on and off island. Owning one was a treasure. In a 1978 article about the Craftsman's fair, the Vineyard Gazette made the following observations of Madeline's racing yacht etchings, "The rake of the mast and the set of the sail reveal the hours of research necessary to depict so realistically these and other great sailing ships in the difficult medium of glass." Madeline was especially pleased when her bird etchings were acknowledged by the Massachusetts Audubon Society and made available in their Drumlin Farm Gift Shop in Lincoln.
For a time she couldn't explain her fascination with sailing, and then discovered it was genetic. Renowned 19th century ship architect William H. Webb was part of the family tree. While she embraced the romantic notion of seafaring, she knew that life on the sea was difficult. She was personally acquainted with some of the island's most avid sailors and shipwrights, and loved her collection of vintage sailing books. She followed intently Dick Newick's trimaran designs Moxie and Ocean Surfer during their singlehanded Trans-Atlantic racing exploits (Moxie won the OSTAR with Phil Weld at the helm in 1980). She recalled her sail on the Ocean Surfer, and confided on just how memorable an experience it was. She touched base with Rick Haslet frequently as he built Destiny, was overjoyed to have been part of the 2007 launching, and in October she finally sailed aboard her.
In 1982 Madeline and Bran moved to her earth berm house on Canterbury Lane in Vineyard Haven. Built by John Abrams and the South Mountain Company, it was among the first earth integrated passive solar homes on the Vineyard. Warm in the winter and cool in the summer the house exceeded all expectations; it was a favorite stop on the Vineyard solar tours that were popular in 1980's. Her personal reverence for the earth and its cycles and her enthusiasm for climactic living and the independence it provided grew.
Madeline worked for various Vineyard institutions including: the Martha's Vineyard Hospital, the Vineyard Haven Public library and the Tisbury Senior Center where she retired as Activities Director in 1994. She was always helpful, especially helping islanders negotiate the often complex and baffling world of health insurance.
On January 23, 1994 she married Edward Heath, a long-time family friend from Orlando, Florida. They exchanged vows on Menemsha Beach witnessed by family and friends, and moved to Venice, Florida where Madeline and Edward enjoyed their lives together until Edward's death in 2004. Madeline loved her life with Edward, but she always missed the Vineyard. She missed everything about the island: Menemsha sunsets, the Gay Head cliffs, the seasons, her many friends, and her special connection to ships and the sea.
In 2005 she returned to the Island pursuing her interest in sailing ships and maritime history. At age 83 she undertook the construction of her first wooden ship kit, that of the racing schooner "America". A gathering for a Menemsha sunset in Madeline's memory will be announced in the Spring.
Contributions can be made in her memory to the Farm Neck Foundation Post Office Box 1656, Oak Bluffs, MA 02557.