Claus Buchthal


Claus Buchthal, 97, of Prospect Hill, Chilmark, died on November 8, three months after being diagnosed with a brain tumor. Claus was born in Berlin, Germany, on August 31, 1913.

He emigrated from Nazi Germany to the United States in 1936 and was joined shortly thereafter by his two brothers. He enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1941 and later established an export business in New York City. His business took him to Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America. He was fluent in English, German, and French and spoke some Spanish and Arabic. His customers all over the world became his friends because they respected his honesty.

In the 1960s, Claus began spending summers at the Menemsha Inn on Martha’s Vineyard with his wife, Hela, and their children. They eventually established a year-round home in Chilmark when Claus retired in 1991. Never one to sit still, and happiest with a busy, organized routine, Claus quickly became a fixture in a number of Island organizations. He put his entrepreneurial skills to work for the Martha’s Vineyard Community Services Thrift Shop, and SCORE (a volunteer business counseling service). He volunteered for the M.V. Hospital, was active in the Tisbury Senior Center, and was a regular contributor to a number of Island institutions.

Claus’s devotion to duplicate bridge was unfailing, and he was a regular at the Island’s bridge clubs until shortly before his death. He competed in American Contract Bridge League tournaments all over New England and as far away as Bermuda. He was a tournament celebrity known, liked, and admired by hundreds from Maine to Connecticut. He often traveled alone to tournaments, picking up partners or teammates at the partnership desk, where he was always in demand, and winning consistently. His stamina was legendary, and even in his mid-90s, he always played all three sessions (ten and a half hours or more) every tournament day, a pace few players were able to match. He was a Bronze Life Master.

In 2008, Claus learned that a heart valve was failing, but his doctors deemed that at 94 he was too old for open-heart surgery. Not one to give up, Claus learned of a procedure, not yet approved in this country, that could replace the valve through a vein in the groin, without opening the chest. Claus began making plans to have it done in Europe or Canada, but instead talked his way into a U.S. experimental program. Claus could be very persuasive. In early 2009, he became the first percutaneous aortic valve replacement patient in Boston, in a clinical trial at the Brigham and Woman’s Hospital.

Claus is survived by his wife, Hela Buchthal; his brother Chaim Tal; and his children and their families: Steven Buchthal and his wife, Vanessa; Rebecca Hemphill and her husband, Caleb; and Peter Buchthal. He is also survived by his grandchildren, Eric and Sarah Hemphill and Emma and Robin Buchthal. He was predeceased by his brother Fred Buchthal.

Claus was a good friend, a good neighbor, and a loving husband and father. His unique brand of common sense, warmth, and care for others will be sorely missed.

Funeral services were held at 1 pm on Sunday, November 14, at Abels Hill Cemetery in Chilmark.