West Tisbury honors Pat Gregory

The library lobby will welcome the community to a place he cherished.

From left, Ron Rappaport, Dorothy Gregory, Shannon Gregory Carbon, and Bess Carbon listening to the kind words spoken about Pat Gregory. — Photo by Lisa Vanderhoop

On Sunday afternoon, nearly one year to the day since Pat Gregory was killed, friends, neighbors, and colleagues streamed into the West Tisbury library for a ceremony which dedicated the lobby in his honor. The crowd of more than 75 packed the spacious, light-filled lobby, overflowing into adjoining rooms. A table displayed a color photo of Mr. Gregory, his friendly, cheerful face familiar to all; a poem in his honor by outgoing Poet Laureate Justen Ahren; and programs from his memorial last May, when mourners filled the Agricultural Hall to bursting. Daffodils adorned every surface, gifts from townspeople happy to contribute to this special event.

Mr. Gregory, West Tisbury’s well-liked and respected town moderator for 23 years, a community-minded business owner, family man, and friend to many, was robbed and shot to death on a California hiking trail on May 16, 2014, leaving Islanders shocked and saddened. It was evident that his loss was still deeply felt by those gathered on Sunday.

Mr. Gregory’s widow, Dorothy, and their daughter Shannon Carbon stood before the front entry. His granddaughter Bess, 6, wore a bright red dress and snuggled close to her mother and grandmother. Mr. Gregory’s grandson, 8-year-old Jack, stood beside his father Dan Carbon, wearing his Giants baseball uniform for an upcoming practice.

Selectman Cynthia Mitchell stepped to the podium and asked for a moment of silence, then pianist David Stanwood began to play a meditative Irish lament.

Ms. Mitchell welcomed the crowd on behalf of the West Tisbury Library Trustees and selectmen, and said that she had initially felt a memorial to Mr. Gregory should be at the town hall, because of his importance to town government. But after learning of his strong connection to the library, she realized how appropriate this location was.

Pausing several times to regain her composure, Ms. Mitchell shared comments written by the children’s librarian, Nelia Decker.

“Watching Pat with his grandchildren, Jack and Bessie, brought us such joy,” wrote Ms. Decker. “He and the kids visited the library regularly, even in our cramped temporary quarters.”

Ms. Decker recounted the little girl’s love of certain fairy books, and her grandfather’s doting presence. “Bessie would ask for a particular title, and Pat would have to bend his long, lanky body in half to peer at the titles on the lowest shelf. He treated her request with utmost respect and consideration, at the same time with a twinkle in his eye. The kids loved being read to, and he spent many hours reading patiently to them. He so honored them, their choices and their time together at the library,” Ms. Decker concluded.

“And so it makes perfect sense to honor him here,” said Ms. Mitchell. “Like town meeting, this too is a community gathering place in which he was a solid and comforting presence.”

The proposal to dedicate the lobby to Mr. Gregory had begun with library staff and officials, was quickly embraced by selectmen, and placed on the annual town meeting warrant in April. The voters approved the measure unanimously.

“Today,” continued Ms. Mitchell, “after nearly a year of mourning and remembrance, we follow the town meeting’s wishes, and hereby dedicate this space in memory of our dear friend and town moderator Pat Gregory.”

Shannon Gregory Carbon, as had Ms. Mitchell, took a deep breath before speaking as she surveyed the crowd circled closely around her and her family.

“Visiting the library was a ritual for my father,” Ms. Carbon said. “On Monday nights, he and my mother had a standing date here. Other times, Dad waited patiently as our children, Jack and Bess, chose their books. And before that, he waited on my brother and me. How perfect that our beautiful library is in the heart of town. For me, it is our town’s beating heart. The stories, the poetry, the music, and the neighbors found here are nourishment for the soul. A library’s contents have healing power and can transform a person’s perspective — no matter where one resides.

“Again, a deep-felt thank you to West Tisbury, and beyond, for the kindness you have shown our family,” said Ms. Carbon. “My father would have loved to be here today.”

Then it was time for reminiscing, sharing, warm hugs. In the community room, tables offered savory snacks and cold drinks. A television monitor played the 2008 annual town meeting, Moderator Pat Gregory presiding.

“Pat Gregory was the epitome of a man who lived his life with grace,” said Lynne Whiting, member and former vice chair of the library foundation. “It will be wonderful each time we walk into the library to be reminded of him and how he treated others.”

“It would be far better to have Pat here,” said Sherman Goldstein, reflecting on a close, many-faceted friendship with Mr. Gregory that endured for decades. “Our lives intertwined in a wonderful tapestry. There’s a rent in the fabric of our lives without him.”

Dan Waters, library trustee and new town moderator, remembered Mr. Gregory’s assistance when he presented the library’s capital-campaign information at town meetings. “He helped me put my case before the voters,” Mr. Waters said. “He welcomed people into the process and made a safe place for them to speak.”

“We wanted to dedicate space to Pat, but not just from the library trustees or selectmen. It was important to make that gesture and have the voters speak in favor of it,” Mr. Waters explained. “This is the town’s lobby, and they voted for it. Our aim was to be as inclusive as possible, because that’s what Pat would have wanted.”

Linda Hearn, library board of trustees chairman, recalled her nervousness speaking about the measure at town meeting, and gratitude at the positive vote. “I think it’s very appropriate to dedicate the lobby to Pat,” she said. “He was a big part of the town, and this is really a town gathering place.”

“I was really pleased with the dedication ceremony,” said library director Beth Kramer. “It was quiet and respectful. We got to embrace Pat’s family and honor him. The fact that Dorothy and Shannon were pleased with it was the most important thing, and to have everybody there with them a year later.”

“It’s very much in keeping with what Pat would have done,” observed writer Niki Patton, admiring the simple gray plaque with black print, its wording chosen by the family. “He would have said, ‘Don’t make a fuss.’”