Tisbury mourns loss of ‘fantastic guy’

Thifault is last surviving member of Legion Pumper crew.

Fred Thifault, the last member of the Legion Pumper Crew living on the Island died on Thursday. — Courtesy Tisbury Fire Dept. via

Tisbury is mourning the loss of Fred Thifault, the last surviving member of the Legion Pumper crew living on the Island.

Fred Thifault, 90, who died Thursday, served two terms as a member of the board of selectmen, and was a longtime Department of Public Works commissioner. He was also on the Tisbury finance committee for many years.

Bunting has been draped over one of the bays at the town’s Emergency Services Facility, and the flag is flying at half-staff at the station, Fire Chief John Schilling said.

“Tisbury Fire Department is saddened by the loss of Fred Thifault,” Tisbury Fire Department posted on its Facebook page. “Fred was the last of the Legioneers for Engine 3. Besides being on the Fire Department, he was a selectman for the town as well. Thank you for your years of service, Fred.”

Schilling said Thifault was instrumental in helping Tisbury get its 1947 Legion pumper returned by the Cotuit Fire Department.

The unit of Legionnaires was first established after World War I. Several men returned to Tisbury after serving in the war and established the American Legion Pumper crew, a firefighting unit to complement the town fire department and allow them to continue to serve their country.

Fast-forward to the end of World War II, when another group of men returned from war and continued the tradition.

While there are no longer just Legion members on the pumper crew, Engine 3 is labeled the Legion pumper — a moniker guaranteed by town meeting vote, according to a 2010 Times story on the Legion Pumper crews’ involvement in the town’s Christmas celebration for children.

Thifault is a rarity in that he was a veteran of two different branches of the military. He served in the U.S. Navy at the tail end of World War II, and then joined the U.S. Army and was a member of that branch from 1948 to 1952, serving in the Korean War, JoAnn Murphy, veterans agent for Dukes County, told The Times.

“I always used to tease him: Why would you get out of one service and join another?” she said.

Thifault was a past commander of the American Legion, and was instrumental in having the Seamen’s Bethel moved from where the Steamship Authority terminal is now to its location on William Street, a memorable move because CommElectric (the predecessor to Eversource) had to move wires so the building could be hauled to its new location. Thifault and other members of the Legion built the hallway between the Legion building and the Bethel, Murphy said.
“He was a fantastic guy,” she said. “He was one of my biggest supporters when I became commander back in 1999.”

Murphy described him as the backbone of the Legion. “He did a lot of work around the Legion. He did a lot for the town of Tisbury,” she said. “I know he hasn’t been well, but it is a big loss.”

Thifault was a dedicated family man. He is survived by his wife, Priscilla, his 10 children from two marriages, and his many grandchildren.

“He was very family-oriented. Nothing made him happier than our great, big, over-the-top holiday gatherings,” Linda Habekost, his step-daughter, “We never had gatherings of less than 15 people, and it always made his day.”

Thifault had many careers, starting out as an embalmer and funeral director at Martha’s Vineyard Funeral Home, Habekost said. Later, he started his own business, Island Masonry and Concrete Form Co. “He was it for the mason work on the Island, and he did that for 40 years,” she said.

Not one to sit still, he worked for Cottle’s Lumberyard, and for the VTA as a bus driver, and was active in the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby.