Helen Issokson


Helen (Goldberg) Issokson, 90, died peacefully in her sleep at home in Vineyard Haven on Oct. 31, 2015. Her life on the Vineyard ended as it began — with her smiling her way to her next adventure.

She was predeceased by her husband of 51 years, Dr. Bernie Issokson, and her son-in-law Willie Pelletier. She is survived by her daughter Judy Issokson of San Diego, as well as many nieces, nephews, and cousins throughout the U.S.

Born in Springfield in 1925, Helen was raised in western Massachusetts, the only daughter of Morris and Ida Goldberg. Their Great Barrington farm was a haven for friends and relatives as well as various stray animals and treasured pets. The farm life figured formatively in her love of animals and generous hospitality for friends, family, and curious others.

Helen came to the Vineyard on Memorial Day weekend, 1947, with her parents to visit the Brickmans and Henry Cronig. During this visit she met Bernie. They were married in Springfield in 1948, and moved to the Island to build their life together. This life included one daughter, many pets, much laughter, many legendary meals, sufficient challenges, many walks to the post office and Vineyard Dry Goods, and decades of deep relationships with the Island community.

Helen’s married life was punctuated with family visits, entertaining friends at home, active participation at the Hebrew Center and with Friends of Tisbury, being Bernie’s receptionist and bookkeeper, and welcoming the myriad people Judy introduced to the Vineyard. Her life after Bernie was indeed different, yet full — developing and nurturing diverse interests and deep friendships with people of all ages and walks of life, exercising her resilience and adaptability (she started driving at 60, began using a computer at 75, readily migrated to general online communication and research, and always used contemporary slang judiciously and for emphasis). By all reports, she was consistently valued as a great storyteller, and for having a keen intellect, an irrepressible sense of humor, and a great laugh (check out her stories on YouTube). She was also valued for speaking her mind (captured in pages of notes from committee meetings and recalled by people who blocked her driveway when parking on Spring Street), exhibiting constructive impatience (embracing a faster computer two years ago because she was getting older and just couldn’t wait that long for something to download) and offering practical counsel (why complain about not being able to move a heavy object — go outside, find someone strong, and ask for help).

She believed in community, laughter, candor, friends, and family. She was articulate about her opinions and feelings — and lived her life with curiosity, compassion, courage, and common sense. Helen’s funeral took place Nov. 5, and she is interred at the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Cemetery. Her memory may be honored by sending a donation to any local humane society, the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center, or the Vineyard Haven Public Library.

The family extends special thanks to Dr. Neider and his staff for decades of wonderful care and concern, and to the Hope Hospice staff for their collective kindness in Helen’s last few months.