To the Editor:
The Island has lost a great friend. Governor Stephen E. Merrill died at his home in Manchester, N.H., on Sept. 5, surrounded by his family. While he was raised in New Hampshire and graduated from UNH, in his adult life, especially after his election, the Vineyard became a place of rest, anonymity, relaxation, and escape. He was our friend and neighbor in our years in Manchester, and we were early and ardent supporters when he ran for governor. He was the first governor of New Hampshire to have graduated from UNH, and he was very proud of this.
When he was governor, he was a wildly popular leader. He was smart, engaging, funny, and sincere. When he spoke to you, it was as if you were his one and only interest and concern. Being governor for him was a 24/7 job, and he was in the news nearly every day. Like many celebrities, the Vineyard was where he came to be just another human being. His state trooper would drive him to Woods Hole, he would put on sunglasses and a Red Sox cap, and then jump on a boat. He was not often recognized, but even if he was, we Vineyarders tend to give celebrities a wide berth. Steve would stay with us in our Island house, a home he and his wife subsequently bought, and still own. Steve loved to go to the Net Result and get odds and ends of various fish to make incredible stews and chowders. He loved to prowl the farmers market on Saturday mornings.
After he left office and joined a big Boston law firm, he was still very popular in New Hampshire, and was called on by all kinds of aspiring younger politicians for support, mentoring and endorsement. He did most all of these, but it was the Vineyard that he longed for and came to for rest and restoration. His political base was New Hampshire, but in his heart he was a Vineyarder.
At a very touching memorial remembrance service in Concord, N.H., last Friday, his longtime friend and law partner, John Broderick, spoke eloquently of all that Steve did and was. He said that Steve was the kind of politician who wanted to win you over, not knock you over. How few like that we now seem to have. How much better we could be if there were more like him. The current governor of New Hampshire, Chris Sununu, said that when he decided to run for governor, he sought Steve out to ask his advice. Chris said he had a pencil and paper and was ready to take notes when Steve said to him, “Be genuine.” Chris said, OK, what else? Steve responded, “There’s nothing else. Just be genuine. If you run for governor, I will support you, but whatever you do with your life, be genuine.” He had many friends and admirers who will miss him greatly, but he was in love with this Island we call home. The Vineyard has lost a great friend.
Most sincerely and with affection for Steve,
Jim and Pam Butterick