West Tisbury


There are some people who seem larger than life. For me, that described Henry Bessire — a friend, neighbor, man of the Island, man of the world — who died on Friday, November 18.

All who knew Henry were welcomed into his large embrace. His face lit up, his voice spoke your name with enthusiasm softened by his Southern drawl, and you were folded into big arms against a big chest. You felt like the most special person in the world. For Henry, at that moment, you were.

The embrace included his opinion on the subject of the moment. There he was considered. He knew what he was talking about and you always learned something. He was passionate about the Vineyard, especially West Tisbury, especially the yellow and gray Victorian Bessire house (the former Mabel Johnson house) on the corner of Edgartown and Old County Road. He served on the board of the Vineyard Conservation Society. But he was as passionate and considered when talking about art, music, theater, the best of everything at the Farmers’ Market, town and national politics, the state of the world, his and Louise’s latest travel plans, the minutiae of construction details on a house project. Everything attracted Henry’s interest. In depth. In thought. I’m leaving the off-Island achievements to his obit, written by the family.

Fred Borsch emailed a photograph of Henry, taken a couple of weeks ago at a Princeton Class of ’57 mini-reunion and seminar on the Israel/Palestine peace effort. It was quintessential Henry. He was seated at the table looking straight at the camera with his huge grin. I could smell the familiar pipe tobacco fragrance and hear his voice, feel his vitality.

Henry suffered cardiac arrest while attending a performance of “Billy Elliott” with his wife, Louise, and two of their granddaughters. It seemed appropriate that he would be doing something wonderful with people he loved.

Most of all, Henry loved Louise, his wife, travel partner, and dear friend of 52 years. His sons, Paul and Mark, their wives, Anne and Aimee, and the most beloved grandchildren in the world, Nicholas, Emma, Blakey, and Clay. It was with great pride that he noted that both sons were art museum directors.

After all my complaining about computers, I have to admit their efficiency in simplifying communication during Henry’s illness. Louise was able to send one email to a group of us, keeping everyone informed, and sparing her an endless round of phone calls at the end of an exhausting day. And we could all respond to her from our corners of the world. I was thankful every day for being on the receiving end of those emails.

Mike and I will miss Henry terribly. I will stop by for visits at his gravesite in the West Tisbury Cemetery around the corner.

It’s hard to move on to regular town business after writing about the loss of a friend, but here goes.

Tony Rezendes told me an interesting story about our town. Tony is an election official and, at the last town meeting, he was perusing the voters’ list and noted the names and dates of the longest registered voters. Alma Benson registered to vote in 1944; Eleanor Waldron in 1948. That’s pretty impressive.

Children in the Arts MV and Atlantic Coastal Ballet will perform the 14th Annual Nutcracker Gala this weekend at the MVRHS Performing Arts Center. Performances are Saturday, December 3, at 4 pm, and Sunday, December 4, at 2 pm. Tickets are $15 general admission or $25 for priority center seating. West Tisbury will be represented by dancers Deborah and Neil Withers, Amelia Abbot, Harry Abbot, and Camille Brand.

Martha Hubbell has planned two special craft programs at the library. On Wednesday, December 7, she will lead kids 10+ years old to make “Creature Feature” pipe-cleaner animals. Kids are asked to pre-register at the library. The program is free.

December is Really Funny Movie Month at the library’s Monday Night Movies. Steve Klebs has chosen the films. This Monday, December 5, come to see “Anchorman” at 7 pm. Free movie and free popcorn.

Over the past almost 15 years, a group of artists have met to discuss art, critique their work, share fabulous potluck dinners or teas, and generally support one another as friends and artists. They will be the featured artists on the library’s Art Wall this month. I am honored to be a member of this esteemed group. Others are Leslie Baker, Nancy Furino, Ruth Kirchmeier, Wendy Weldon, Liz Taft, Claire Chalfoun, Lyn Hinds, Jeanne Staples. There will be a reception later this month.

Marsha Winsryg will have balloons out on Edgartown Road at New Lane to lead the way to her African Crafts Sale, held at her home every Saturday before Christmas. Follow signs on New Lane. The sale, between 10 am and 4 pm, will feature Tuareg silver jewelry, Ghanian patchwork, Zambian baskets, Tanzanian Kikoy cloth, Makuni wood carvings, and Zambezi dolls. All proceeds go to disabled children and their families in Zambia.