Internal dispute splits Camp Jabberwocky
On July 14, 2005, Gillian Lamb Butchman resigned as director of the July session at Martha's Vineyard Cerebral Palsy Camp, known to all as Camp Jabberwocky. This April 15, she sent out a letter announcing that she and a group of 60 campers and counselors from the July session of Jabberwocky will launch a new camp, The Tulgey Wood, with a two-week session from July 24 to Aug. 4, on Nantucket.
If that resignation of last July signaled a divorce, now the allocation of assets is becoming clear: Camp Jabberwocky got the real estate, and The Tulgey Wood got the kids.
It is also clear, from more than a dozen interviews with campers, counselors, camp directors, and board members over the past week, that the divisions behind this divorce ran deep in the Jabberwocky community, and that the breakup has been profoundly painful. Some friendships have been broken, others sorely tested. Campers and counselors have been forced to choose between returning to Jabberwocky, a place filled with happy memories, or continuing personal friendships of many years on Nantucket. And in a community so passionate about enriching the lives of people with disabilities, there are nearly as many heartfelt perspectives as there are players.
As Arthur Bradford, a longtime friend of Ms. Butchman and a newly appointed co-director of the July program at Camp Jabberwocky, wryly put it: "You could write a book about this."
Gillian Butchman will set up camp in Nantucket. File photo by Susan Safford
Family history is inseparable from any account of the recent events that have so torn at the Jabberwocky community.
"This is a family drama," said Elaine Klein, a camp trustee for many years who served as chairman of the board over the span of about a decade, ending last year. "It was played out at camp, it was played out on the board, it was played out in so many ways."
The camp was founded by Helen Lamb - the fiery and charismatic leader who long ago earned the nickname of Hellcat - when she first brought five children with cerebral palsy to the Vineyard for a week in the summer of 1953. Since that modest beginning, Jabberwocky has grown to become a beloved Island institution and a source of community pride, with programs spanning two months on its campus off Greenwood Avenue in Vineyard Haven.
Two of Helen Lamb's children, John and Gillian, became deeply involved in the Jabberwocky tradition. In the early years, the siblings worked closely together, but as the program expanded, Gillian began directing what came to be known as the "adult camp" in July, while John ran a program for younger campers in August. Over their more than three decades running the two camps, each session evolved, developing its own traditions and internal culture.
"July camp was Gillian's camp," said Mrs. Klein. "And it was extraordinary. That's a camp that probably never will be duplicated." But the same qualities of strength and spirit that made Gillian Butchman a charismatic camp leader also made her difficult to manage for a board of directors whose members increasingly viewed their responsibilities in terms of risk management, due diligence, and best practices.
A Camp Jabberwocky production in July 2005. File photo by Susan Safford
Peter Halby, a July counselor who has been with Camp Jabberwocky every summer since 1992 and is going to The Tulgey Wood this summer, says: "There used to be some intermixing of counselors and campers, but over the years it just became like we were running two different camps."
John Lamb, a teacher, stepped down as a camp session director after the summer of 2004, but remains on the board of directors. Gillian Butchman, a physical therapist, quit the board when she resigned as a camp director. For months after that, the two didn't speak.
Ms. Butchman's departure became inevitable on June 15, 2005, when the Jabberwocky trustees voted 12-6 to enact a terse new policy: "When camp begins in June 2005, consumption of alcohol by counselors should not be permitted on camp property at any time."
Underlying that policy, and bound up in the issue of on-campus alcohol, lie the issues and history that became fault lines between the tectonic plates that shattered at Jabberwocky last summer.
"The reason that Jabberwocky is the remarkable place it is," explained Arthur Bradford, "is because of this fiery spirit that is embodied by Hellcat. She handed that spirit down to her daughter and son, so it's volatile. That family doesn't suffer dissension."
Josh Lilley, with Peter Halby (right), throws out the first ball at Fenway Park on April 18. Photo by Julie Cordeiro
Gillian Butchman said recently that over the years, she and her brother had to resolve any number of issues in the running of camp, and that one way they sorted things out was by identifying certain issues as deal-breakers - matters over which one of them was prepared to walk away from Jabberwocky. She explained: "If there was something that John or I really needed to have, one of us would say to the other, 'Look, either you accept this or you do the camp without me.' One issue he had that I remember was over firing a cook. I allowed him to do that, because it meant losing him if I didn't. One of my issues, back in 1978, was over whether we could have gay counselors. John said no, the board would freak. I said to John, 'Either you take this man or I don't come to camp.' That's how we figured things out together."
Both John and Gillian knew as early as 1995 that for her, the issue of alcohol use by counselors on the Jabberwocky campus was a deal-breaker. That year, the board considered and rejected, by a single vote, a proposal supported by John that would have banned alcohol from camp. Seeking a compromise, John and Gillian then hammered out a complicated policy that allowed for alcohol use, but with provisions designed to ensure camper safety - specifying, for example, that counselors responsible for cabin duty at night should abstain from drinking.
Safety and trust
Gillian accepted the compromise, but the policy never sat well with her brother. "There were all these holes in the new policy," John said. "There was supposed to be one person, per cabin, who was stone-cold sober. But that wasn't happening because no one was watching; no one was in charge.
"I didn't think it was safe. I thought it was stupid. I mean, these campers are people who cannot get out of the cabin by themselves if there's a fire. You need people who are thinking clearly and acting quickly to make sure tragedies don't happen."
Gillian Butchman speaks of the board members who led the battle for the ban on alcohol with open disdain. "These people are terribly, honestly, fearful of the world today, and see the threatening consequences of legal suits for anything that smacks of neglect. They have raised all these bizarre scenarios: Look at this. What if this happens, what if that happens?"
Gillian admits that it isn't easy to convince an outsider of her view - and the view of her counselors - that the 1995 policy allowed an essential aspect of her camp's culture and traditions to endure. She tried to explain why the board's 2005 vote was a deal-breaker in an e-mailed note after a long interview conducted for this story.
She described the hour when counselors relax together at the end of the day, and wrote: "This is, of course, the 'sitting around the campfire' that has been most importantly engaged in since humans began. If wine or beer or some other substance is available at this time, it will surely be used. If it is not directly available but can be obtained at a nearby campfire, then many will leave to go to that other campfire (read 'bar'), and then you have lost what is so absolutely important, i.e. the availability of all, while in a state of relaxation, to hear and learn of each other's ongoing or emerging needs, complaints, plans, problems, all of which will have a determining effect on what happens to that group as a whole tomorrow.
"I honestly believe that the success or failure of any group can depend a great deal on the quality of these 'elemental campfires.' It's the cultural 'campfire' that is at stake, and if we have to choose between the necessity of that campfire and the necessity of fine buildings and daily comforts, then those of us who are forming The Tulgey Wood will choose the campfire. That's not trivial; it's essential."
The counselors who are going to Nantucket with Gillian Butchman agree, and add that the board's vote of last summer sent a message about trust that they deeply resent. "What the board did last summer was insulting," Peter Halby said. "There were tons of checks and balances in the alcohol policy - we always had people on cabin duty who were not drinking that night. And there's never been an issue about alcohol causing any trouble, nothing.
"Camp isn't something we just dabble in. For me, this is something I've invested my life in. I want to believe fully in what I'm doing, because I'm sacrificing a month of my year for it, and I want to be trusted and respected as an adult here."
The board's concerns
Jane Price, a member of the Martha's Vineyard Cerebral Palsy Camp board of trustees and its co-chairman for the past year, is confident that the trustees made the right decision last June. An attorney in Boston and a longtime volunteer with the August camp, she said she explored the liability issues involved with the board's 1995 policy, and became seriously concerned.
"The thinking that convinced me," she said, "and the 12 people who voted this new policy, is that when we looked at the worst-case scenario - which is what we have to do as the keepers of the camp - we were concerned that the camp could lose everything if it were sued."
Here, Ms. Price drew a distinction between a risky camp activity like horseback riding and the policy on alcohol: "Horseback riding can be a dangerous activity, yet we continue to offer that because horseback riding is part of the purpose of the camp; it's something that is expected to happen at the camp. But alcohol consumption is not part of the purpose of the camp, and therefore the ability to defend against a lawsuit on the grounds that we were pursuing our charitable purpose does not apply.
"I've been surprised at the arguments that this board has been coming down in a heavy-handed way and trying to squelch the fun. In almost every case, it's the counselors who are saying, 'It's my liberty, it's my fun that's being taken away.' But you know, it's not about them, really."
John Lamb emphatically rejects the notion that banning alcohol from the camp will somehow damage it irretrievably. And he said he's tired of being portrayed as the heavy, the killjoy, the fuddy-duddy, in this story of the breakup at Jabberwocky.
"You talk about campers sitting around in the evening, camaraderie, et cetera, et cetera - we did that in August," John said. "We just didn't use alcohol to do it. I absolutely lost my top when I heard the argument that alcohol is somehow essential. I said look, come around to my camp. For 20 years, we've run a camp that has been perfectly successful, and it was alcohol-free."
The last summer
In their July camp of 2005, Gillian Butchman and her counselors realized that this would likely be their last season on the Vineyard, but she says they didn't start discussing the future until the session was over. In a final act of defiance, they ignored the new alcohol policy and enjoyed their evening drinks as before. Then, after the close of camp, they began to look ahead.
"After camp last year," Gillian said, "we thought this was the end. One night I was having dinner with Susan Halby and her daughter Robin, and she was asking me what I was going to do. I said I thought next July I'd take this job as a physical therapist in Alaska - they fly you around and you work with kids with cerebral palsy in all these remote areas, and I'd always wanted to do that. Robin said, no, you've got to do this Jabberwocky someplace else. She said, you're the only person right now who can take this someplace else. We talked about it for a while, enough to convince me."
Counselors started casting about for locations, and about a week after that first meeting, Peter Halby and Ila Briggs announced that they'd found an interesting possibility on Nantucket, where the University of Massachusetts has a research station on 107 acres of land. Talks followed, and this property became the site for The Tulgey Wood, at least for the summer of 2006.
Peter Halby insists that although the counselors do feel loyal to Gillian, this move to Nantucket is not about her. "Even if Gillian had retired and left forever," he said, "we would have worked out something new. We said to each other, 'Guys, we lost the battle against the board - where are we going to go now?'
"And you have to understand that starting new camps has become part of our culture," Mr. Halby added. Over the past 10 years, the July group from Jabberwocky, under Gillian's leadership, has started new camp operations in Maryland, in Mississippi, in Los Angeles, in Mexico, and in Guatemala.
"It got to the point," Peter said, "where for us, camp is not this piece of property or this month of time - camp can be anywhere where you gather as friends. That's been our philosophy for a while."
In the middle
Two important figures in the story of Jabberwocky's tumultuous year are very much stuck in the middle. Arthur Bradford and Johanna Romero de Slavy, both former longtime counselors with Gillian Butchman, have agreed to stay on at Jabberwocky as co-directors of the July camp.
Both, in their interviews, made it clear that they disagree with, but will abide by, the board's new alcohol policy. Both said they support Gillian Butchman's position personally, but don't see the issue of alcohol on campus being nearly as important as she does.
"I'm in an interesting position," said Mr. Bradford, "because although I am co-directing the camp with Johanna this summer, philosophically I usually side with Gillian. I think that counselors should be allowed to drink. Where I disagree with Gillian is that I don't think that the camp becomes a bad place once the new rules are enacted."
Johanna, a registered nurse who goes by the nickname of Jojo among her friends, refers to the controversy as "that stupid alcohol issue." She said, "If you've worked your behind off all day, nonstop and with not a care for yourself, what's wrong with having a glass of wine at the end of the day?" But she added, "To me, whether there's alcohol or not, camp goes on."
Johanna and Arthur said they accepted the duties of July co-directors because they knew the Jabberwocky community would be torn by the events of the past year, and they considered it essential to offer a program for campers who want to come to the Vineyard. Both said it distresses them to think that Gillian Butchman feels betrayed by their decision.
Gillian said that if she feels a sense of betrayal, it's not personal: "I think they betrayed the ideas that I and many of us feel are important to camp. I do think they betrayed that."
Indeed, the current posture of Gillian Butchman seems to recall the old Ken Kesey adage: You're either on the bus, or you're off the bus. She has made it clear that she will not accept either campers or counselors at Tulgey Wood who want to maintain their association with Jabberwocky this summer.
Explaining her position, she resorted to a religious metaphor: "It's a little like the Mormons. When they decided they wanted to have five wives, or however many, they took off from Philadelphia for Utah. I think it is ridiculous to choose both sides of this issue. I think it is ridiculous to choose Jabberwocky, with its prohibition, and then come to Nantucket, without the prohibition."
For whatever it's worth, the leaders of Camp Jabberwocky have taken a different position. Said Jane Price, "When we learned that people were being told by Gillian they needed to choose between going to Nantucket and coming to Jabberwocky, my cochairman and I sent out a letter saying it is Jabberwocky's policy that you can come to our camp and also go to any other camp that you choose. But Gillian wrote back to us and made it clear that she is not allowing campers or counselors to do both, at least this year. I know time doesn't heal everything, but I'm hopeful."
Looking ahead to this summer, it's no surprise that for the group who abandoned their home, the new campus is the biggest problem, and for the new camp directors who lost almost all of their staff, the central challenge is personnel.
The Tulgey Wood has space for about 46 campers and staff, but more than 60 have signed up for the summer session. Gillian and her team are exploring their options, and are understandably worried about the expenses involved.
Back at Jabberwocky, a full July complement would be 30 to 35 campers and 20 to 25 counselors. As of this week, John Lamb said, only about a dozen counselors had been lined up.
Mr. Lamb said, "I said to Jeff Caruthers [a trustee and the organization's treasurer], if you've only got 12 counselors, don't have more than 15 to 18 campers for the first week, at least, because a lot of these people are new, and don't over-strain them. It looks like we're getting some good people, but I don't want them to be overburdened and either freak out and leave or get too tired and make mistakes. Getting too tired is a big issue at camp."
So it looks as if both the Vineyard and Nantucket have new experiences in store this summer. The Jabberwocky contingent marching down Edgartown's Main Street in the Fourth of July Parade may be visibly depleted this year - and it won't have such regulars as Larry Perry of Taunton, who has been a July camper here every summer since that first outing with Hellcat in 1953.
Larry's mother, Annie S. Perry, said the decision to send him to Nantucket this summer was sad, but ultimately simple. "If I said there was no sadness about this, I'd be a big liar. But did I really have to think over the decision about him going to Nantucket? No, because that's where all Larry's friends are going."
Meanwhile on Nantucket, most folks likely have no idea of the invasion of wacky energy that The Tulgey Wood is about to infuse into the community. "We are committed to Nantucket now," Gillian Butchman said, "and there are some real beauties to being without what many of us see as a very restrictive board. But if that board had said, two months ago, let's go back to the 1995 policy, we would all be right back at Jabberwocky, known now as The Garden of Eden."
People on all sides of this story, in interviews both on and off the record, expressed the strong hope that a public account of the past year's troubles will not hurt either organization. And many found a bright spot in the fact that, albeit at a heavy cost, there are now two July programs offering more opportunities for handicapped campers than before.
"In a way," said Arthur Bradford, "I honestly think this outcome of Gillian starting a new camp is something that was supposed to happen. I just don't think it needed to be this messy."
Said John Lamb, "There's no need for a lot of animosity over this. There were differences about how camp should be run. They turned out to be irreconcilable differences for the people at the camp. But now Gillian is starting her own camp, which is terrific, and I wish her all the best, I really, really do."
Gillian said: "I do fear for all of us the coming public awareness. Angry and wounded as any of us may feel, none of us I think want to really hurt Jabberwocky. Still, how can two camps be worse than one? Jabberwocky will kbe a full summer's 'August camp.' The Tulgey Wood will be a full summer's 'July camp,' when we can afford it."
"We're all sad about this," said Peter Halby. "We love the Vineyard, and for everybody this is a hard year. But I keep thinking about the big picture, and the sooner you can be with what you believe in and what you want, and keep working at that, the better it's going to be in the long run. I wish Jabberwocky the best, but I feel like this is the Jabberwocky I know."