The lives they led: Jan. – Mar. 2020


In celebrating the lives of Islanders who died in 2020, we have included those who lived for at least some time on Martha’s Vineyard, and for whom information about their life here was available in their obituary, from which the following quotes have been taken.

Though we might have known a lot about those who were in the news — Everett James Francis operated Captain Porky’s Bait and Tackle in Edgartown, Nelson Bryant was the famed “Outdoors” columnist for the New York Times, Dan Sharkovitz mentored generations of writers and readers, John Alley performed thousands of Island wedding ceremonies in his top hat — the obituaries of less well-known Islanders are filled with small but remarkable details you might not have known: Beth Ann Saint-Amour shared her gracious acts of cooking, bringing strangers and friends together, teaching us about food and its ability to bring us together; David C. Thompson founded Vineyard Yachts, a boatbuilding company based in Tisbury, where he produced “seaworthy and elegant runabouts.” George E. Buckley Jr. was a proud Army veteran, and most notably remembered as the doorman at the Capawock Theater in Tisbury for many years. Hannah Malkin donated a parcel of land on Lighthouse Road to the town of Aquinnah to be enjoyed by all, “as a respite and overlook for the expansive views of Menemsha Sound”; Sherman Francis Burnham, known throughout his life as a prankster, climbed to the roof of the Whaling Church in a King Kong suit.

The obituaries, taken together, underscore just how rich and varied life, well-lived on Martha’s Vineyard, can be; they highlight what, at the end of someone’s life, their survivors considered what were the most important aspects of someone’s life: gardening, holding court from a porch, catching fish, winning awards for tomatoes at the Ag Fair, and the kindnesses, small and large, they showed each day.

March 10, 2019: Nathaniel (“Ned”) J. Orleans, 95, Vineyard Haven
A favorite family story illustrates Ned’s immediate attachment to the Island: Ned was about 6 years old, and upon hearing that it was time to go to the ferry to leave Martha’s Vineyard at the end of the summer, he promptly climbed a tree and refused to come down. (The family missed the departing ferry.)

May 26, 2019: Charles (“Chappy”) Chapman, 75, East Burke, Vt.
After serving in Vietnam, Charlie attended Lyndon State College, and found himself bartending on the Vineyard between semesters. Some of his favorite memories were working at the Boston House for Tubby Rebello, and for Buster and Richie at Giordano’s Restaurant.

Dec. 4, 2019: Priscilla Sinatra, Millis.

Dec. 20, 2019: Beverly Ann Corwin, 87
Beverly worked in obstetrics at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, and loved it. She also ran a nursery school in Edgartown in the 1960s called Corwin’s Nursery School, which is still remembered fondly by the children who went there.

Dec. 23, 2019: Peter H.R. Hawkes, 96

Dec. 26, 2019: Ann Mathewson Howes, 82, West Tisbury
Ann was a well-known watercolorist on the Vineyard for her scenes of the Island. She showed her awardwinning paintings at the Old Sculpin Gallery in Edgartown, the All-Island Art Show in Oak Bluffs, and the Night Heron Art Gallery in Vineyard Haven. She was a regular art exhibitor at the Vineyard Artisans Festivals in West Tisbury, and was on the board of directors of the Martha’s Vineyard Art Association. Ann loved teaching inspiring workshops all over the Island.

Jan. 4: Everett James (“Captain Porky”) Francis, 80, Edgartown
Porky was a respected electrician on the Island for many years, but was probably best known for his namesake business, Captain Porky’s Bait and Tackle, in Edgartown. The shop was a collaboration of his knowledge and vast experience of Martha’s Vineyard fishing and Carol’s business acumen in running the store. Porky leveraged his expertise in local fishing to supply rods, reels, and fishing tackle to those looking for the authentic Martha’s Vineyard fishing experience. To that end, Porky was also a licensed charter boat captain on the Whitewater, and could be found running charters south of the Island throughout the summer months. It was on the water that Porky was most at peace with the world around him.

Jan. 5: Beth Ann Saint-Amour, 60, Vineyard Haven
Beth worked at Island Food Products, and developed a close bond with those she worked with and her clients alike. Throughout Beth’s life journey, she shared her gracious acts of cooking, bringing strangers and friends together, teaching us about food — but more important, about its ability to bring us together.

Maria Alexandrina Bettencourt, 71
Maria worked as a nurse at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital. After nursing she worked as the “lunch lady” at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, and also helped her mother and Aunt Mary Dias clean houses. Her home was a way station for many of her children’s friends, who all loved her treats and her delicious food.

Jan. 6: Susan H. Bettencourt, 67, Edgartown
If you’ve had the opportunity to visit the emergency room at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, the chances are you met Sue B. Susan worked as an emergency room nurse for 40-plus years. She believed that being a nurse was her true calling. Aside from her family, being a nurse was what Susan lived for. Susan loved spending time on the beaches of Martha’s Vineyard. She particularly enjoyed going to South Beach on Sundays with friends.

Jan. 8: Amy Lynne Combra, 49

Jan. 10: Robert A. Pacl

Jan. 11: Nelson Bryant, 96, West Tisbury
Nelson Bryant, who grew up “prowling the woods of West Tisbury” and delighting in the bounty of up-Island ponds, would turn his love of the outdoors into his life’s work, becoming the “Outdoors” columnist for the New York Times for more than 30 years, joining an illustrious group of Island writers who fished, and fishermen who wrote — John Hersey, Ward Just, Kib Bramhall, Janet Messineo. He was known for his conversational tone, weaving his scientific knowledge into a good yarn, and his willingness to write about, even as a writer well into his 90s, larger issues such as climate change.

Alexandra Henley Turner, Katama
Alexandra moved to Katama in 1947, started her family on a small dairy farm on Slough Cove Road, and later worked as an elementary school teacher off-Island. After her retirement from teaching, she returned to the Island full-time. She was a professional church organist, and an associate of the American Guild of Organists.

David C. Thompson, 84, Edgartown
David founded Vineyard Yachts, a boatbuilding company based in Tisbury, where he produced seaworthy and elegant runabouts. In the 1980s he established LandVest Real Estate in Edgartown, and for more than 30 years, he was a leading real estate professional on the Island. Throughout his boatbuilding and real estate careers, he was capably assisted by his wife, Joan, who organized their offices and kept David on track.

Jan. 13: Shawn S. Willoughby, 62, Vineyard Haven

Jan. 15: James L. Novack, 73, West Tisbury
Following a move to the Vineyard, Jim was the director and manager of the Performing Arts Center at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School from 1998 through 2008.

Jan. 17: Timothy Conrad Aureden, Oak Bluffs
Tim’s passion for sailing began in high school with ownership of a Thistle, which he raced on Lake Erie, ably aided by five of his high school buddies. In 1966, Tim medaled in the National 420 Races. Over the following years, he owned and raced a Cal 25 and a Sonar. At the Vineyard Haven Yacht Club, where he served on the board of governors, he was instrumental in founding the Sonar fleet, and headed the adult sailing program. Tim loved sharing his passion for sailing and being out on the water with his children, his grandchildren, and his great-nieces and -nephews.

Florencio (“Sonny”) Mendez, 78
One of Sonny’s favorite pastimes was watching baseball and sitting at the ferry docks to watch the many visitors come and go. After completing his enlistment in the Army, he worked as a machinist for the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, where he traveled the world and serviced their many ships. Thereafter he returned to the Island and worked as a truck driver for Araujo Brothers for many years.

John A. Lowe Jr., 94, Oak Bluffs
Since 1949, after being introduced to Martha’s Vineyard by his wife Roberta, Dad spent summers on the MVCMA Campgrounds. For many years, he was an active member of the Campgrounds, and manager of the MVCMA Museum.

Jan. 20: David Garland Dutton Jr., 93, Oak Bluffs
Islanders will remember Dave best as the owner of Dutton’s Home Center (“Do Something Constructive”), located on State Road in Vineyard Haven. For two decades, he regularly dispensed wit and wisdom, and the store became a place where people would come to hang out, pick up building supplies, get a DIY lesson, or enjoy a story.

Jan. 24: Juanita Z. DuBose, 85
Juanita was a nurse manager at University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey in Newark, a nurse manager at the Veterans Administration Hospital in East Orange, N.J., served as a staff nurse at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, and as a nurse manager at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital.

Jan. 29: Walter A. Raimon, 85, Edgartown

Feb. 4: Robert (“Rob”) E. Stafursky, 35, Lowell, Ma.
Rob’s childhood was filled with Island activities — schools, camps, teams, swimming, sailing, Catholic church, and more. He participated in the MVRHS golf and track and field teams, and the Close-Up program.

Feb. 6: Jean Gatting, 100 (and a half)
Jean carried her love of gardening to the Vineyard, planting, weeding, and hoeing for as long as she could, and when she tired, directing from her porch rocking chair.

Earl Vincent Peters, 82, Oak Bluffs

Feb. 12: Robert (“Bobby”) Chambers, 26, Gainesville, Mo.

Feb. 15: Lt. Col. Samuel (“Sandy”) Stevenson, USMC (Ret.), 83, West Tisbury
Over the years on the Vineyard he could be found at the early morning men’s “coffee talk” at Conroy’s Apothecary, and making his 10th daily trip to the Post Office. Over the past couple of years, he enjoyed his time being at home, in the solitude of Indian Hill Road.

Feb. 16: Daniel E. Sharkovitz, 68, West Tisbury
“Shark” began teaching at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) in the fall of 1979, and would go on to serve as chairman of the English department for 18 years. He was also a key advisor for the student staff of the High School View, the school’s newspaper, published weekly by The MV Times. In a profile she wrote at his retirement in 2017, Island novelist (and Times columnist) Nicole Galland said that her first days at the high school paralleled his, and he would become a mentor to her, as he would to virtually hundreds of students in the decades to follow.

George E. Buckley Jr., 90, Tisbury
George was a proud Army veteran, and most notably remembered as the doorman at the Capawock Theater in Tisbury for many years.

Feb. 19: Shelley E. Carter, 71, Vineyard Haven

Feb. 25: Jean Mary Billingham, 91, Dallas, Texas
In 1986 Jean and her husband Bill retired to Martha’s Vineyard, a beautiful Island they had come to love on many family vacations. Here Jean began to craft wonderful hooked rugs, and found a community of fellow artisans — the Dock Street Hookers.

Feb. 26: Douglas John Fortes, 67, Indiana
In 1990, Doug was hired in Gay Head as an officer, and a year later was sworn in as chief. Doug retired as Aquinnah Police chief in 2004, due to health conditions, and spent a decade living in his Gay Head home until he moved to Indiana in 2015. He was very knowledgeable about many things, and enjoyed a West Tisbury coffee klatch, chatting it up before his final retirement off-island.

Feb. 28: Janet A. Norton, 91, Edgartown
A talented artist and craftswoman, she excelled at whatever she delved into, be it painting, crewel embroidery, pottery, jewelry making, or eggery, to name just a few. As an artist, her favorite medium was watercolor, and she created beautiful floral paintings and folk art scenes of many Vineyard towns. She had several scenes laminated and made into placemats, popular in the Island shops.

March 1: Hannah Lacob Malkin, 99, Lantana, Fla.
Hannah was instrumental in negotiating a settlement of the Indian land claim suit against the town of Gay Head by the Wampanoag Tribal Council through a long, 13-year ordeal, which included appearing before congressional committees in Washington, D.C., on many occasions. In 2018, Hannah donated a parcel of land on Lighthouse Road to the town of Aquinnah to be enjoyed by all, as a respite and overlook for the expansive views of Menemsha Sound.

Susan Leighton, 71, Edgartown

Nicholas Azzollini, 77, Falmouth

March 6: Rhoda Tappan, 95, Oak Bluffs

Muriel L. (Doane) Bye, 86, West Tisbury
After retiring, Muriel worked as a warden at the elections in West Tisbury, and also worked for the Visiting Nurses Association of Martha’s Vineyard until the age of 81. Muriel enjoyed watercolor painting and gardening, and won awards for her tomatoes at the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society Fair, where she also volunteered.

March 11: John F. Pearson Jr., 77
On the Island, John had an accounting practice, and when he retired, he had a television store and drove a school bus. He also drove tour buses in the summer, and said that was the most fun job he had ever had.

Rosalie Norton Humphreys Powell, 90

March 14: Sherman Francis Burnham, 88
Sherm loved his work, and while he was known as an excellent carpenter, he was perhaps better known as a famous practical jokester, and loved nothing better than planning and executing elaborate pranks, from which no co-worker, whether seasoned old-timer, or college-age summer lumper was spared. He was especially proud to realize a lifelong ambition of acquiring a gorilla suit (a birthday gift from three conditioned enablers, a.k.a. his daughters), and while working with his crew to repair the roof of the Historic Whaling Church in Edgartown, was able to live out his King Kong dream by donning the suit and climbing the famous clock tower, to the delight and befuddlement of onlookers below.

March 15: Noreen J. Bettencourt, 72
Noreen was a fantastic cook and baker. There was always something cooking in Noreen’s kitchen. She kept the neighborhood fed, and always had something for those with a sweet tooth.

Robert J. Belisle, 65, Middlefield, Conn.
Bob loved Martha’s Vineyard, and spent many happy times at his home there with friends and family. He loved showcasing the many beaches and hot spots to his friends who came to visit the Island. He was an avid boater and fisherman, both fly and spin. Bob loved being captain of the Pogue Mahon, and never passed up the opportunity to cast his rod out on the Vineyard waters.

March 18: Mary Francis Sanborn Perry, 84
Eventually, Mary moved permanently to Martha’s Vineyard, and took a job in the front office at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. There she joined a staff golfing group, and enjoyed golfing at Farm Neck for many years with her husband and friends.

Donald Hurley Jr., 78
The year 1954 was significant for all Vineyarders, as Hurricane Carol pounded the Island and destroyed the Harris Creek Bridge, near the unfinished Hurley house. For several weeks, Don and his younger brother, Steve, provided ferry service in their rowboat to stranded up-Islanders, until the Army Corps of Engineers could replace the bridge.

March 19: John S. Alley Sr., 78, West Tisbury
John Alley was known as the Island’s justice of the peace, marrying more than 2,500 couples. His first wedding was that of his friend and neighbor Allen Whiting, who wanted to get married in his State Road home in West Tisbury. At the time, the JP in Edgartown didn’t want to travel to West Tisbury. His friend gave him an idea. “Whiting said, ‘Well, why don’t you get your JP license, and you could marry us?’” Alley recalled in an interview. Alley told The Times that’s where the top hat and tails got its start.

March 26: Sandra Lee Corfield, 53, Mashpee

March 29: Richard (“Dick”) Rice, 90
In 1977, Dick and his family returned to Martha’s Vineyard, where he spent the next 40 years as a boatbuilder at the Martha’s Vineyard Shipyard, a builder-contractor, and finally a clerk in the plumbing department of Ace Hardware in Vineyard Haven. While a contractor, he built several houses on the Vineyard. He and his wife were proud owners of a cottage in the Campground, as well as their home in Longview in West Tisbury, which Dick and his son Doyle built.

Kevin R. Burchill, West Tisbury