Islanders react with disbelief and tears to Pat Gregory’s death

Informal gatherings and tributes followed the news that the popular West Tisbury town moderator was robbed and killed while hiking in California.

Friends gathered on Lambert's Cove Beach Sunday to remember Pat Gregory and comfort each other. — Photo by Kate Feiffer

Updated 5:05 pm, Wednesday, May 21 to reflect announcement of memorial service.

Robbed? Murdered? Pat Gregory! Over the weekend, stunned Islanders found it difficult to wrap their thoughts around the news, so they wrapped their arms around each other.

The news began filtering around the Island Saturday afternoon. It was not until 7:30 pm that evening that the Tehama County Sheriff’s Office confirmed that Francis “Pat” Gregory, 69, was indeed the man robbed and shot late Friday morning while walking on a remote trail in northern California with a male companion, who was also shot but survived.

At 5 pm, Sunday, a hastily organized group of about 50 longtime friends of Pat Gregory and his wife, Dorothy, gathered on Lambert’s Cove Beach in West Tisbury to share their thoughts about a man widely known for his sense of compassion and kindness, and to shed tears over the senselessness of a criminal act that robbed the community of one of its most respected citizens.

“It was wonderful,” Julie Hitchings of West Tisbury said. “It was spontaneous and just came out of the moment. Lots of people spoke right off the cuff and it was lovely.”

Ms. Hitchings said those gathered on the beach represented a cross-section of Vineyard life and many had known each other for 35, 40 years. People just needed to come together, she said.

“It was such a beautiful evening,” she said. “I looked around and thought, what a tribute to a lovely man who really deserved it.”

In an unrelated gesture, a sentiment board with Pat Gregory’s photo and the headline, “We miss you Pat,” was placed by the door of the Educomp Building in Vineyard Haven, the computer and art supplies store he owned. Messages expressed the sense of sorrow.

“A profound loss,” Phebe Bates wrote. “Words cannot describe the pain. You will be greatly missed by many. Thank you for everything. I hope they have computers up there.”

Bouquets of flowers and votive candles placed around the board and on the steps gave the scene the appearance of a small shrine.

“Please take a ribbon of remembrance,” said a note over a glass bowl filled with black ribbons that carried “a hint of Kelly green, a nod to Pat’s proud Irish heritage,” said Heidi Feldman, one of the organizers of the tribute.

Ms. Feldman, a former Educomp employee, said as she and other former and current employees of Educomp decided the best way to demonstrate the sense of loss was to show it. “And the only way I knew how was with the ribbons,” she said. “To show the scope and the scale of the impact on the Island.”

Asked to describe Mr. Gregory’s one enduring characteristic, she said, “He’s immeasurably kind. He has everyone’s best interests at heart and no ego involved. He’ll go to the wall for anybody in a very kind and gentle way, he’ll reach down to the bottom and help you see the light and then just stand back and watch you as you find it.”

Ms. Feldman said, “We will be refilling the ribbons regularly and plan on wearing ours until Pat comes home to us.”

Always whistling

Francis “Pat” Gregory cut a wide swath on Martha’s Vineyard. Tall, lanky and possessed of an enduring grin that set people at ease, he was anchored in decency and compassion, a trait that made him an invaluable member of many town and community boards. The highly respected longtime town moderator of West Tisbury, he had arrived on Martha’s Vineyard with a like generation of young people attracted to the the Island by its sense of community and natural beauty, new arrivals who in their time filled the front ranks of their local town government and the work force, “We just felt like we needed to get together and hug each other and talk about Pat and just try and make some sense of it all,” Madeline Coutts told The Times in a phone call Sunday night.

Ms. Coutts, Gale Mone, and Dorothy Gregory are members of a small book club that have been getting together for more than 20 years.

“It really started will all the members of the book club wanting to do something for Dorothy,” Ms. Coutts said. But as they continued to talk they realized that many more people needed to be brought into the circle. Sunday morning word of the 5 pm gathering began circulating.

“It was really helpful,” Ms. Coutts said. “I think everybody was so stunned. He was such a beloved man.”

Ms. Coutts said many of those in attendance were people who had arrived on the Vineyard about the same time as the Gregorys. It was a time, she said, “when everybody knew each other.”

“Most people talked about what an incredible person Pat was, his sense of humor, his smile, his ability to always see the goodness in everybody and everything.”

Ms. Coutts, a retired teacher, recalled his days as a mathematics teacher. “Other teachers from the West Tisbury School talked about how every morning he would walk through the door whistling and smiling and talking to every kid. Even in the most serious situations he could help everybody see that silver lining: he was just that kind of guy.”

The Gregory Family invites young and old to join them in a memorial service and celebration of Pat Gregory’s life at 4 pm, Wednesday, May 28, at the Ag Hall in West Tisbury.