Alan Rush Willens died peacefully on Monday, March 14, with his family — the people who mattered most to him — at his side. Alan had determinedly battled cancer for many years, characteristically charting the battle with an excel spreadsheet. He was 80 at the time of his death.
Alan was born Jan. 14, 1936 in Detroit, Mich. He received a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1957 and a master’s degree in the same field in 1958 from the University Michigan.
In 1965, with two friends, he started a research company, CRA. Their first offices were a two-bedroom suite in the Sheraton Commander Hotel in Cambridge. The company grew steadily and eventually occupied two floors of the Hancock Tower in Boston. CRA is now an international company that recently celebrated it’s 50th anniversary.
The oldest of three children, his love of the water and of sailing started young with family sailing trips. Alan sailed to Martha’s Vineyard many times. In the spring of 1998, he and his life partner, el Edwards enjoyed a weeklong stay on the Island, compliments of a family member. By the end of that visit, Alan had arranged a summer rental. By the end of that rental, Alan had decided the Island would be his home.
As luck would have it, he rented a house in Harthaven. “We knew almost immediately,” recalled el, “that we had found the place we wanted to live for the rest of our lives. We were drawn to the nearby beach, the harbor where Alan could keep a boat but most importantly to the sense of community we felt there.” In the summer of 1999, the couple started building their own home in Harthaven.
Alan may have retired from CRA, but on the Vineyard he stayed very busy, actively participating in a number of community and nonprofit organizations — the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, the Film Society, and more. He also became a personal computer guru to friends, neighbors, and family, on a strictly amateur basis. “I didn’t think that I knew that much about personal computing,” he told el, “but it turns out that I have become pretty adept at solving computer problems.”
“Right from the beginning,” said Harthaven resident Ron Moore, “Alan and el joined into our community activities. They were first in line to help carry benches to the beach for our annual clambake, prepared food for it, and quickly became dear friends to all of us. Alan was the heart of Harthaven.”
The Harthaven beach called to Alan. He walked it almost every day in weather fair and foul, and could be seen carrying out trash left behind by careless visitors. From these daily walks he created an impressive collection of sea glass. An accomplished photographer, he documented the arrival, courtship, family feuds, and departure of Harthaven’s ospreys, which he published in the community newspaper, the Harthaven Herald.
“Alan was an extremely kind soul,” said Harthaven resident Peggy (Moore) Yoars. “When he learned that our trusty vehicle had died after a long and arduous life, he gave us a car. ‘You need it more than we do,’ he told us. We will always be grateful to him. We miss him terribly.”
Alan was a special person. He had a deep sense of responsibility to his family, to his friends, and to his community. Martha’s Vineyard was where he was the happiest. The longer he lived here, the less he wanted to leave. Even a quick visit to Boston would have him pushing to get back to the Island. Harthaven was home and his neighbors were truly family to him.
He is survived by el and his daughters, Beth Rose Willens of San Rafael, Calif., and Lori Willens of Bend, Ore.; his son Scott Willens of San Anselmo, Calif.; his sister Kathy Willens of Brooklyn, and five grandchildren: Max Sinclair of Portland, Ore.; Dylan Hollander of Tampa, Fla.; Grace and Reid Willens of San Anselmo, Calif., and Oliver Stoefen of Bend, Ore.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, P.O. Box 1477, Oak Bluffs, MA 02557.