William Riley Deeble III, a longtime resident of West Tisbury, died peacefully Thursday, Feb. 18, 2016. He was 94.
The only child of Katherine Harding Deeble and William R. Deeble, he was born in Boston on Feb. 1, 1922, delivered by Dr. Thomas Goethals, father of Vineyard residents Henry Goethals and his late brother, Thomas Goethals, who were Riley’s lifelong friends.
Riley graduated from Yale College and served in the Amphibious Engineers during World War II, piloting 65- and 85-foot-long tugboats in the Mediterranean. He trained for the duty of learning how to pilot troop landing craft off the beaches of Chappaquiddick prior to his deployment.
At the end of World War II, he was appointed to the rank of warrant officer, junior grade, and was assigned to be an international observer for elections in Greece. Following his service with the United States government, he became a teacher at Episcopal High School, where he taught for 41 years.
Riley was fully involved in the life of Episcopal High School. Over the course of his teaching career, he taught history, English, and French. He was primarily a teacher of history, a subject in which he had encyclopedic knowledge. He was the advisor to the student publications for 30 years, and chaired the discipline committee for the last five years of his career, “trying to provide the high school community with a form of appellate procedure for serious offenses.”
In an era where faculty were teachers first and coaches second, Riley was actively involved in the school’s athletic program, as the head coach of the varsity wrestling team for 25 years and its assistant coach for 10. He coached “cake” (beginning-level) football for 25 years, which he enjoyed greatly. For each of the three sports he coached (tennis was the third), “he was the same hard worker, specializing in having his athletes in shape, teaching the fundamentals, and winning.” For his contribution to athletics Riley was inducted into the high school’s athletics hall of fame in 2013, 21 years after his retirement.
Riley was an avid sailor, and had many stories about sailing his boat to and from Virginia, and races on the Sound as a teenager and as an adult, and he had an inexhaustible supply of nautical lore. He took a keen interest in the events and the currents on the Vineyard, and wrote frequent letters to the Gazette, the first one printed in 1948, the last one three weeks before his death.
Riley had deep roots on the Vineyard, arriving just as he was learning to walk. He had stories of the Vineyard in the ’20s and ’30s that involved a childhood friend painting out every other letter in his boat’s name, as his friend didn’t consider Beach Plum, named by his mother, suitable, and so “the Bah Pu sailed the high seas around the Vineyard.” Riley told the story of General Brown posting “Off Limits” signs around his house when the Army was training during World War II, and recalled helping to build the new Ag Hall. He participated in the conversation group at Howes House religiously, and greatly enjoyed the topics and the people in the group.
Riley outlived many of his contemporaries. His family became the next generation of cousins and their children, and Riley grew closer to some of his former students, who came to visit him on the Vineyard or were in touch by telephone. He also grew closer to his friends on the Vineyard, and treasured each of them.
Riley’s funeral service will be held at Grace Episcopal Church, corner of William and Woodlawn streets, Vineyard Haven, on Saturday, March 5, at 11 am. Burial will be in the Lambert’s Cove Cemetery, Lambert’s Cove Road, West Tisbury, with military honors offered by the Veterans of Martha’s Vineyard. A reception will follow in the Parish Hall, and a memorial service is anticipated later this summer. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, P.O. Box 1477, Oak Bluffs, MA 02557 in Riley’s name.
Arrangements are under the care of the Chapman, Cole and Gleason Funeral Home, Edgartown Road, Oak Bluffs. Visit ccgfuneralhome.com for online guest book and information.