Ethel (Eckie) Smith Wolff died peacefully in the company of her son Roswell on Sept. 29, 2016, at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, following complications from a fall at home. She was 88.
Eckie was born to Dr. Roswell Hayden Smith and Miriam Wain in North Attleborough. She arrived on Martha’s Vineyard at the age of 6 months in early 1929, when her father came to practice medicine here. She attended Edgartown schools along with her sister Rosalind.
Miss Smith was a drum majorette for the Edgartown Boys Club Drum and Bugle Corps, and later for the Edgartown School Band. She trained several other girls to twirl baton and be majorettes. She also played piano with the school orchestra, and sang with the junior and senior choirs of the Federated Church of Edgartown. She was a member of the Edgartown School basketball and Edgartown girls basketball teams. Her high spirits were to follow her throughout her life.
Eckie graduated from Edgartown High School and trained as an x-ray technician at Massachusetts Memorial Hospital in Boston. She was later employed as an x-ray technician at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital; Southern Clinic in Texarkana, Ark.; and Corning Hospital in Corning, N.Y., where she met her future husband.
In 1951 she married Dr. John S. Wolff Jr. of Corning, a widower with three sons, John, 10, Thomas, 6, and Bruce, 3. In 1958, another son, Roswell Shearer, was born to the family. The couple were married for 47 years prior to Dr. Wolff’s death in 1998.
Eckie was very active in many community activities in Corning, including the Woman’s Club, Corning Hospital Chapter Council, serving as treasurer and president of Chapter C, and member of the Steuben County Medical Auxiliary. She was a member and frequent soloist of the choir of the United Church of Christ, and singer with the company of Corning Little Theater in several productions.
The Wolff family vacationed every summer in Edgartown, initially at the home of Eck’s Aunt Martha Smith, formerly the home of her parents until her father’s death in 1947. After that home was sold in 1959, they stayed at many rental properties until building a property on the Vineyard in 1979.
Following Dr. Wolff’s death, Eck moved back to Edgartown permanently. She continued her community service activities on the board of directors of Edgartown Senior Council on Aging, member of the Federated Church, Martha’s Vineyard Historical Society, and Martha’s Vineyard Scottish Society.
She was a staunch supporter of Island culture and heritage, frequently attending town meetings to fight against increasing development, or destruction of historic properties or historical laws. One fight in particular is ongoing today, regarding the protection of “ancient ways,” where many property owners have encroached on public paths, treating them as their own property. By example, the route starting at the top of North Water Street through to Fuller Street Beach in Edgartown is fast being lost to development, lapsing if not used.
Eckie was an active participant in Al-Anon meetings on the Vineyard for many years, a byproduct of her interaction with relatives, friends, and loved ones suffering with the disease of alcoholism. She espoused the interaction between AA and Al-Anon to members at meetings, in order that members could better understand the effects of alcoholism and be understood themselves. Her firm belief was that alcoholism and drug addiction should not be “swept under the table,” as it had been when she was a young girl.
Eckie also loved to dance, and not being the bashful sort, even at age 80 found a young partner amongst the audience at the Campground Tabernacle to dance the jitterbug at a concert by the New Orleans Preservation Hall Jazz Orchestra. The tune was “When the Saints Go Marching In.” Soon after, all the audience were joining in.
Having lived off-Island for many years, Eckie considered the Vineyard was always her home.
Although claiming a poor memory for details, Eckie nonetheless had an endless supply of stories about the history of the Vineyard, and Edgartown in particular. When passing properties all over the Island, she could recite the names of current and former owners, the property history, and usually a historical scandal or two. Although she’s no longer with us, friends and family will remember her and her stories of Vineyard life dating back to 1929 with great fondness and affection.
She is survived by her son Roswell Wolff and his wife Kiki of Singapore, stepsons John Wolff of North Carolina and Bruce Wolff of Virginia; granddaughters Marika, Andrina, Aline, Andrea, and Erica; six great-grandchildren, and two nephews, Donald and Phillip Collins. She is predeceased by her husband Dr. John S Wolff Jr., stepson Thomas, and sister Rosalind Collins.
A memorial service will be held at 11 am on Oct. 8 at the Federated Church of Martha’s Vineyard in Edgartown. Donations in lieu of flowers should be made to the Federated Church (federatedchurchmv.org) or the Martha’s Vineyard Museum (mvmuseum.org).