John Early honored with Spirit of the Vineyard Award

John Early accepts the 2014 Spirit of the Vineyard Award from Hospice of Martha's Vineyard executive director Terre Young. — Photo by Rich Saltzberg

John Early of West Tisbury has worn many hats over a long career of public service. On Friday afternoon, friends, colleagues, and well-wishers packed the West Tisbury library community room to honor Mr. Early and present him with the Spirit of the Vineyard Award.

Hospice of Martha’s Vineyard presents the award annually “to a person who has served for one or more nonprofit organizations on the island, and whose work has made a difference to individuals and the community as a whole.”

In his remarks, well-known Island lawyer and West Tisbury town counsel Ron Rappaport, a fellow recipient of the Spirit of the Vineyard Award, described Mr. Early’s community service résumé.

The long list included 30 years on the West Tisbury board of selectmen; 20 years as a member of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, often serving as chairman; 40 years as a member of the West Tisbury Fire Department; one of the founders of Vineyard House; president of Island Elderly Housing; and a member at various times of the town hall building committee, school building committee, bicycle path committee, and library building committee.

Mr. Rappaport described Mr. Early, president of the highly respected  John G. Early construction company, as an excellent employer. Reciting lines he wrote as a tribute to Mr. Early in a West Tisbury town report, Mr. Rappaport said, “John Early’s tenure as a selectman was marked by decency, common sense, and respect for his fellow citizens.”

Mr. Rappaport said Mr. Early had contributed greatly to the town’s growth and modernization, and followed in the path of other respected Island leaders that included Herbert Hancock of Chilmark and Ted Morgan of Edgartown.

“When John was involved, things just didn’t get talked about; they got done,” Mr. Rappaport said. “In his quiet way John was able to forge consensus because of the sense of trust and decency he brought to everything that he did.”

Speaking on behalf of Island Elderly Housing, Simone DeSorcy, whose family is also in the construction business, added a humorous twist to the praise.

Ms. DeSorcy recounted a mishap on a job site after Mr. Early returned from the Peace Corps and upended an Olsen Brothers dump truck.

“He never, ever again forgot to unhitch the tailgate when emptying a load of gravel,” she said.

Ms. DeSorcy added, “All who have served on boards with John Early know that he is a man of few words. And those he utters are pithy, to the point, and paragraphs ahead of what most others at the table are contemplating. He truly sees the bigger picture. His depth of commitment is unmatched.”

Beth Toomey, West Tisbury police chief from 1994 to 2010, fondly recalled Mr. Early, a member of the board of selectmen, when she was hired for the job.

“He was very invested in the process of finding a new chief, as all the selectmen were,” said Chief Toomey. “At first John was in the background sizing things up. I later learned this was not unusual for him.”

She recalled her first impressions of Mr. Early. “Who is this man that wore shorts in the cold weather and interesting animal pins on his shirts every day?” she said. “He turned out to be a down-to-earth, tell-it-like-it-is, calm, quiet-mannered kind of guy.”

Terre Young, executive director of Hospice of Martha’s Vineyard, raised a plaque set with engraved brass nameplates of past award winners. Ms. Young pointed to the blank brass plate where Mr. Early’s name would be engraved. She said his name would hang alongside the others in a place of honor inside the New Agricultural Hall.

True to form, Mr. Early, soft-spoken, attributed his willingness to always wear another hat to his failure to realize that “no” could be a complete sentence.

He received a standing ovation.