What is creative living? The best, most recent, and funniest answer might be the life and times of Clarence A. Barnes III, better known as “Trip” and more affectionately as “Trippy,” who was awarded the Permanent Endowment for Martha’s Vineyard Creative Living Award Monday night.
The award ceremony took place at the Agricultural Society in West Tisbury, which was turned into “Trippy’s porch,” complete with three rocking chairs set up on a stage for friends to sit in and reminisce on old stories while the large audience of family and friends laughed along. The barn doors opened, and a Barnes Moving & Storage Truck with its signature green color and bright yellow and red logo stood as the backdrop.
Given out annually by the Permanent Endowment, the Creative Living Award is funded by a gift from Ruth J. Bogan, and recognizes “Islanders who have enriched the quality of life on the Island she so loved,” endowment executive director Emily Bramhall wrote in a post on the endowment’s website. The award, which began in 1983, includes past winners such as musician Johnny Hoy, poet Steve Ewing, and the African American Heritage Trail of Martha’s Vineyard.
“Trip is a doer, Trip is generous, Trip is compassionate. When he sees a need or an opportunity, he jumps right in and gets things done,” Bramhall said. “Wherever you look, chances are very good that Trip has been behind the scenes helping to get important work done.”
The evening — and hilarious anecdotes — began on an official note with state Rep. Dylan Fernandes handing Barnes an official state citation from the Massachusetts House of Representatives in recognition of Barnes winning the Creative Living Award, signed by Rep. Fernandes and the Speaker of the House, Robert DeLeo.
Fernandes said he got to read a lot about Barnes when the award was announced, and his introduction was something he wouldn’t soon forget. Fernandes told the crowd his introduction to Barnes was his legislative aide Kaylea Moore telling him, “This guy Trip Barnes found like five dead bodies on-Island.”
Barnes, along with several friends and family members, took turns on stage telling stories many would think were myth.
“It was many moons ago. I can’t get too many people in trouble here,” Barnes said of a trip through Boston with his good friend Peter Mitchell and two young ladies from Vineyard Haven.
Their first stop on a “musical tour” through many of Boston’s dive bars was at the Hillbilly Ranch in Park Square.
“A guy comes in with a gun and he shoots — dead — the person that’s sitting next to Peter Mitchell. Guy falls off the stool, other guy turns around and goes out the door, so I said to Mitchell, ‘I think we better leave.’ Mitchell says to me, ‘What for?’” Barnes said to the audience as they burst out in laughter.
In the vein of such stories, Billy McCullough, Barnes’ cousin, said the award’s name should be changed to the “Wow, you’re alive!” award, which got some loud laughs and a few nods of agreement from the audience.
McCullough dove into a story from his childhood when a then in-his-30s Barnes drove them on a grocery run from the Island to Providence and back in one day. He detailed Trip’s love of unfiltered Camel cigarettes and Budweiser beer, his penchant for driving fast up and down the interstate, his uncanny ability to maneuver a large truck and trailer around Island roads and small city streets, and his larger-than-life personality that gained him friends all over New England. “Everyone knew Clarence,” he said.
“I’ve never known anyone who works as hard as Trip. He works, and he knew how to work when he was young, he knows how to work now — we’ve got a lot of lazy people in the family,” McCullough said. “We had a lot of fun, and my God you know how to have fun.”
Friends from all walks of life came to the event to share their seemingly endless tales of Barnes. Veteran Islanders know him as not only a shipping magnate, but as an auctioneer, a philanthropist, and an Islander dedicated to community service.
Plenty of gifts were given to Barnes as well. Farmer, painter, and fellow Creative Living awardwinner Allen Whiting handed Barnes a bright yellow rubber duck. At Barnes’ home is a large collection of rubber ducks. Each time a friend has a child, Barnes gifts them one. Whiting gifted the duck back to Barnes, saying his daughter was now all grown up with kids of her own.
“Unlike [McCullough], I never got to ride shotgun with the Anthony Bourdain of the highways,” Whiting said, “but in my personal dealings, you’ve never let me down. Scared me a couple times, but it keeps me paying attention.”
Over the years, Barnes moved many of Whiting’s paintings, and made sure to take care of each one, like the time Barnes’ truck broke down in a tough part of town on its way to New York. He jumped the truck and managed to back it up against a brick wall for the night, so no one could get inside and steal the painting.
Ross Gannon, co-owner of Gannon & Benjamin Marine Railway Co., another Creative Living awardwinner, said his first job on the Island was working for Barnes, who proceeded to tell the audience the infamous story of when Barnes, Gannon, and several others moved a house from behind the Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank in Vineyard Haven up State Road without the necessary state permit.
Barnes said he never really got the permit, and instead trimmed some trees and clogged up traffic to move the house up State Road. The whole trip ended in half an hour. It took a day before the police realized the building had disappeared and notified the state, who gave Barnes an earful, but never doled out a punishment. “Who ever heard of going to jail for moving a house?” Barnes said to the laughing audience.
For every story that spoke to Barnes’ madcap adventures, there was an earnest story of how he gave back to the Island community.
Hazel Teegan came to the Island 25 years ago to work as a nurse and develop a substance-abuse treatment program. Seeing a need for a sober facility on the Island, Teegan teamed up with Barnes and others to open the first Vineyard House, to provide safe housing to those in the the early stages of recovery from drug and alcohol addiction.
“In the beginning, they said it couldn’t be done because it had been tried before. I knew Trip Barnes never said it can’t be done,” Teegan said.
The Vineyard House began as one house for men, and today provides housing for up to 18 men and seven women, on an entire campus.
Chris Scott, former executive director of Vineyard Trust (formerly known as the Martha’s Vineyard Preservation Trust), shared stories of his time with Barnes doing charity auctions for the Island. Barnes rattled off bids as auctioneer, and came up with creative ways to sell trips, experiences, and items of all kind. Scott said Barnes had raised over $5 million in his years as auctioneer.
“We had fun. You know there’s Burns and Allen, Abbott and Costello, it was my privilege to be [Barnes’] straight man for 25 years,” Scott said, laughing. “It was terrifying.”
Scott and Barnes told the audience about the “mystery bus rides” they would auction off. The mystery rides consisted of driving around to uncommon and unknown spots around the Island — including unannounced stops at people’s homes.
Scott shared funny anecdotes from several of the rides, including an unannounced stop at historian David McCullough’s house, where Barnes juggled McCullough’s Pulitzer Prizes; a tour of the Oak Bluffs sewage treatment plant; and after a long ride, stopping at random friends’ homes, so all 40-plus people on the ride could use the bathroom.
The most endearing moment of the night came when Scott shared a story of painter Ray Ellis. Ellis was a good friend of Barnes and Scott, and frequently donated paintings for auctions. Barnes got the crowd roaring at one auction that raised money for Vineyard Trust. While people were bidding on one of Ellis’ paintings, Barnes had Ellis peel off a piece of clothing after every few bids.
“One time I said, ‘Ray will do anything for the Preservation Trust.’ I said, ‘Ray, take off your jacket, relax.’ He takes off his jacket, continue the bidding. ‘Ray, take off your tie, you look too hot.’ We got him down to his skivvies,” Barnes said. “The crowd went nuts.”
At the end of the auction, Barnes grabbed Ellis’ tie and told the crowd he was auctioning it off. Bidding started at $25 and climbed up to $100 until one bidder offered a serious bid of $150,000. Scott did not share the name of the high bidder, but said he gave the tie back to Ellis. When Ellis died in 2013, the tie was given to Scott. At Barnes’ award ceremony, Scott gifted the tie to Barnes, and was met with loud applause.
After stories were told and laughs shared, Bramhall presented Barnes with the Creative Living Award Trophy, an Island rock stuck on top of a plaque, along with a check for $1,000. Members of the audience put their names in bag from which Barnes drew a name, giving that person $1,000 to donate to their choice of any number of Island nonprofits. Barnes randomly picked Sally Rizzo, the Agricultural Society’s executive director, who was not in attendance.
At the end of the ceremony, Barnes’ son, Clarence IV, and his aunt, Margo Goodwin, came on stage to give Barnes a framed photo of Clarence I, II, III, and IV.
Barnes told The Times it was fun to have many of his friends come out to tell stories and have a good time.
Speaking to the audience, Barnes shared his thoughts on a life lived to the fullest on a small New England Island: “You know I never wanted to live anywhere else. I’ve been to every state in the Union, except Hawaii, probably five times, maybe more … This is where I live, and I love the people here and I love the Island, and you know, what else is there? Things are changing, but it’s still inherently a fabulous place. And I just try to keep things a little bit the way they were. Sometimes I guess I’m a little loosey-goosey about the way I go about things, but it kind of works, you know. If it works, don’t break it.”