Pat Gregory murdered while hiking in California

The longtime West Tisbury town moderator was robbed and shot while hiking Friday.

Pat Gregory in his familiar place at the town meeting podium. Mr. Gregory has served as West Tisbury town moderator since 1991. — File Photo By Ralph Stewart

Updated 3:15 pm, Monday.

Francis “Pat” Gregory of West Tisbury was found dead of a gunshot wound near a trail head parking lot in the Sacramento River Bend Outstanding Natural Area on Friday afternoon, May 16. A companion who was hiking with him was wounded.

The news left the small town of West Tisbury stunned and grieving. Mr. Gregory, 69, a former West Tisbury School mathematics teacher, has served as town moderator since 1991. He had served on many community boards and was the owner of Educomp, a computer and arts supplies business housed in a well-known brick building at the intersection of Main Street and State Road in Vineyard Haven.

Sunday morning, West Tisbury selectmen issued the following statement: “The West Tisbury Board of Selectmen, with great sorrow, wishes to express its deep shock and sadness at the tragic death of longtime town moderator Pat Gregory. Our hearts go out to Pat’s family and friends and we offer our deepest condolences. Pat had served the town for 23 years as its always calm and collected Moderator. We will miss his company and light touch at town meetings. We know we speak for all of West Tisbury and the Island when we say that we will join his family and friends to honor and celebrate his memory.”

Robbery and murder

In a press release issued at 7:30 pm, Saturday, Lieutenant Dave Greer of the Tehama County Sheriff’s Office said that at about 10 am, Friday, Francis “Pat” Gregory and a 76-year-old male friend from Manton were walking on the Iron Canyon Trail off Highway 36E, north of Red Bluff and in Tehama County. While walking on the trail between 11:30 am and noon, they encountered a white male adult who is described as approximately 6 feet tall, thin build and with short black hair and a black mustache/ beard and wearing dark colored denim pants and a dark or black tee-shirt with unknown design on the front of the shirt.

“The suspect produced a firearm and demanded money and personal effects from the victims. After the robbery was completed, the suspect then shot the victims, and left them in the remote area about 100 yards from the trailhead. An uninvolved hiker came upon the two victims approximately three hours after the shooting. Francis Gregory died at the scene from his injuries. The other male victim was suffering from gunshot wounds. The citizen hiked to the trailhead and notified emergency services.

“Deputies from the Tehama County Sheriff’s Office were first on scene and located both shooting victims and confirmed that Francis Gregory was deceased. The surviving male victim was found suffering from gunshot wounds and subsequently airlifted by medical personnel to an area hospital for treatment. As of this morning, the victim is stable and in critical condition.”

In a press release issued at 3 pm, Monday (EST), the Tehama County Sheriff’s office said, “At this time, the surviving male victim’s name is not being released as the Sheriff’s Office is concerned with his safety and security.”

The Tehama County Secret Witness Program is offering up to a $1,500 reward for the arrest and subsequent prosecution and conviction for the suspect(s) involved in this incident.

Cow town

Red Bluff is about four hours north of San Francisco, by car, and about two hours north of Sacramento.

In an email to The Times, Rich Greene, senior reporter for theRed Bluff Daily News, said the area where the shootings took place has some vehicle burglaries from time to time, but “nothing ever like this.”

He said the trail the men were on is regularly used by hikers and people going to the river to fish. Mr. Greene said that aside from an occasional high profile crime Red Bluff is a small community, “just a rural cow town.”

Red Bluff is a small community of about 14,000 people. Mr. Gregory and his wife, Dorothy, were vacationing, according to friends.

Sad day

Saturday was intended to be a time of celebration in West Tisbury. The police department had scheduled an open house in the late afternoon to show off the town’s new new police station. Hot dogs and hamburgers were on the grill and the weather was warm and sunny.

But the mood was somber. The official dedication began with a moment of silence and brief remarks by West Tisbury Police sergeant and selectman Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter who described Mr. Gregory as a wonderful caring and giving man.

West Tisbury Police Chief Dan Rossi told The Times he did not know about the murder until people began asking him what he knew about Pat. Chief Rossi said that had he known about the tragedy sooner he would have cancelled the open house. “I don’t remember a sadder, more tragic time for West Tisbury,” he said.

Selectman Cynthia Mitchell, her eyes welling with tears, said, “Our hearts break for his family.”

The news began to circulate around the Island Saturday morning by phone, on the street and social media. The reaction was universal.

“What a shock,” said writer and West Tisbury resident Pat Waring. “And happening to one of the nicest most decent, most gentle people, you can imagine. People across the Island are devastated.”

In love with town meeting

Pat and Dorothy Gregory moved to the Vineyard from the Adirondacks in 1972. He taught at the West Tisbury School while Dorothy, a RN by profession, cared for their children, Shannon and Tim. In 1982 the couple started Educomp, which was first situated on Circuit Avenue in Oak Bluffs before moving to its current location in 1985.

Not a New Englander, Mr. Gregory was unfamiliar with the tradition of town meeting government. He found it fascinating.

Inspired by town meetings, Mr. Gregory and fellow teacher Susan Goldstein instituted weekly meetings with their students. The youngsters sat in a circle with a student moderator and discussed and decided matters of classroom life.

In an interview in November 2012, Mr. Gregory, commonly known as Pat, recalled 20 years of town meetings.

“Many of those students are now active members of the town meeting,” Mr. Gregory told The Times. “That’s one of the most satisfying things to me.”

Mr. Gregory’s first town service was helping draft West Tisbury’s Personnel Bylaw. Then he decided to run for moderator.

In 1992 he stepped to the podium. Mr. Gregory recalled his first  “fundamental error,” was when he let a selectman from another town speak too long and wildly divisively. “I decided I would learn from that, and make sure I was more actively monitoring the debate,” Mr. Gregory said.

For more than 20 years Mr. Gregory wielded the gavel with athletic grace, the tall, lanky moderator explaining knotty warrant details, recognizing voters by name (“I think that’s the polite thing to do”), and deftly keeping the discussion orderly. Despite his genial smile and easy-going manner, Mr. Gregory always ran a tight town meeting.

“I like to think the town can take care of its business in one night,” he said.

Aside from the growing town budget there have been few changes, Mr. Gregory said. In 20 years of town meetings he recalled most debates as restrained, even friendly.

“When you disagree with someone at town meeting you know you’re going to see them in the grocery store, on the porch,” Mr. Gregory said. “You can disagree without being impolite or making it so that you can’t look them in the eye.”

At the time of the interview Mr. Gregory was looking forward to moderating his 22nd annual town meeting in April 2013 and said he had no thoughts of retiring.

“It’s something I really love doing,” he said.