The lives they led: July – Sep. 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, or widely known — Shirley Mayhew was one of the Island’s great storytellers; Duncan MacDonald had a career in radio in New York (and was for a while an editor at the MVTimes); Dennis daRosa was a fixture on Circuit Ave., where he learned the printing trade from his father —  the obituaries of less well-known Islanders are filled with small but remarkable details you might not have known: Grace “Phronsie” Conlin lived to be 100, and was known as a great conversationalist; Nancy Safford published a groundbreaking book of portraits and oral histories in 1973; Suzie Bunker had an independent spirit as a teenager, and was known for driving around the Island on her motorcycle, dressed only in her bikini. Robert “Junior” Graves won first place in the National Field Archery Association’s Mass. State Championship in 1977; Peter Look served the Edgartown Fire Department for 57 years; Lucille Whitman started the Seafood Shanty with her husband Bob in 1960.

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 to be the most important aspects of someone’s life: playing music, volunteering at Hospice or Planned Parenthood, an ability to unravel complicated Island land title problems back to the 17th century, pulling oysters from a pond and sharing them with friends, and the consistent threads that runs through most of these final reports: a love for the Island, an appreciation of all that the land and sea around us offers, and the joys that come from gathering with family and friends.

Walter J. (“Skip”) Hunziker Jr., 90, Edgartown
He was the husband of Norma Norton Holmes, and served as a junior grade lieutenant in the Navy during the Korean War.

Jonathan Brian Douglas
Jon lived for a short time on Martha’s Vineyard, worked for the trucking company Barnes Trucking, and made a lot of friends fishing.

Zeb (“Thadius”) Devine
Zeb was born and raised on Martha’s Vineyard, a member of the Wampanoag tribe. He was a talented welder, trained in underwater applications. The true measure of a man, however, is not in what he did for a living or where he went to school, but in the lives he touched … and he touched so many.

Autumn McGowan, 23
The world grew a lot dimmer when we lost a member of our Island family, Autumn McGowan. Formerly known as Austin McGowan, she was just shy of 24 years old. Autumn was an amazingly talented artist, skateboarder, friend to many, and loved by even more.

June 29: Allan F. Davey, 85, Vineyard Haven
He grew up in his family’s home on upper Main Street, when neighbors were Hancocks,Tiltons, and Carrolls. Lifelong friendships and the “Daggett Ave. Gang” were born from this neighborhood, and Allan, his younger brother Martin, and their posse had themselves a fine time and loads of adventures, back in the day when many roads in this part of town weren’t yet paved, if they were there at all.

July 2: Roberta (“Bobbie”) Tilton, 83, Oak Bluffs

July 4: Herbert N. Bianchi, 91, Vineyard Haven
Herbert proudly served our country during the Korean War from 1951 to 1953, when he was discharged with the rank of corporal. After his retirement, Herbert enjoyed working in the garden, producing tomatoes and other vegetables worthy of the Agricultural Fair.

July 5: Madeline C. (“Midge”) Moreis, 83, Vineyard Haven
Midge worked tirelessly to provide for her family, working many long hours as a housekeeper. She worked at the Ocean View Restaurant for more than 20 years, and loved being part of the extended Jackson clan. Her private clients were family to her as well, and she loved filling her home with their gifts of art and china.

July 6: Barbara C. Beichek, 68, Oak Bluffs

July 9: Margaret Ditson, 67

Grace (“Phronsie”) Vibberts Conlin, 100, Harthaven, Oak Bluffs
On July 10, 2019, Phronsie celebrated her 100th birthday at the Portuguese-American Club. About 250 of her friends attended. She stood for hours in a receiving line welcoming her guests and chatting with each of them. “I remember her going around and having the best conversations,” her cousin Martha Abbot recalls. “She had a very wide network of friends because she was interested in everyone, and could keep track of so many people’s lives and the details about them.”

July 10: Nancy Safford, 74, Sedona, Ariz.
Nancy helped raise builder Alan Miller’s children, Tina and Andrew, during the time he built the Black Dog Tavern, while she pursued her interest in photography. The culmination was her book, “Time’s Island: Portraits of the Vineyard,” a collection of black-and-white, high-contrast photographs and oral histories documenting the last vestiges of an earlier era on the Vineyard. It was a groundbreaking history of the Vineyard, published by MIT Press in 1973.

July 11: Veronica Bernadette Richter, 75

July 18: Duncan MacDonald, 104, Vineyard Haven
When Duncan’s work took her to the courthouse in Edgartown to manage the County Commissioners’ office, she relocated to Vineyard Haven, where she also worked as feature editor at The Martha’s Vineyard Times. At that time, never one to let moss grow under her feet, Duncan researched and wrote “The Martha’s Vineyard National Bank: An Early History.” She was a founding member of the Scottish Society of Martha’s Vineyard, which paid tribute to her in May, and was involved in Scottish pursuits nationally.

July 19: Shirley MacKay Hall, 92, Braintree
Shirley enjoyed many years collecting and selling antiques with her husband on Martha’s Vineyard at the Chilmark Flea Market, where she was known for her vintage linens.

William D. Higham, 69, Oak Bluffs

Florence Lamborn (“Pete”) Peters, 92, Princeton, N.J.
Pete had deep ties to Martha’s Vineyard. Her maternal grandfather was George D. Flynn Sr., who first came to Edgartown in the 1890s and purchased Pohogonot Farm in Edgartown in 1910, which is still owned by his descendants. Pete’s avid interest in the flora and fauna of the Pohogonot region, the preservation of Pohogonot Farm, and her extended Flynn family and their history, was instilled by her grandmother, Elizabeth D. Flynn, with whom she would often stay in the Big House at Pohogonot when she was young.

July 23: Stephen Wesley Lewis, 80, Oak Bluffs
Stephen lived on the Island for close to 50 years, and had his own landscaping business for many years before retiring in 2007.

David L. Landers Jr., 39, Monroe, Maine
David grew up on Martha’s Vineyard, and became a very skilled woodworker and carpenter. He ran a successful roofing and siding business on Cape Cod for years, and enjoyed continuing to work professionally with his father.

Hillary Lee Landers, 63
In 1985, Hillary moved to Martha’s Vineyard, her home for much of her life. She worked as a realtor for Barbara Nevin Real Estate, and later, with Lisa Stewart, started her own realty company in Edgartown, called Lighthouse Properties.

July 26: Thomas N. (“Sully”) Sullivan, Vineyard Haven
Sully arrived on Martha’s Vineyard in 1976 with his close friend Mark Hurwitz to build a house for Bill Goldsmith, and never left. In the early 1980s, he built his own passive solar house. At the time, he had partnered with his friend Jay Walsh to sell solar hot-water heaters. His own still works after 35 years on his roof!

Fern Leigh Thomas, 68, Oak Bluffs

Nancy Temple Hammond, 93
Nancy was an active volunteer and board member for Martha’s Vineyard Hospice and the Vineyard Haven Public Library. She also dedicated her time to Planned Parenthood and the Martha’s Vineyard Literacy Program, where she and Bob worked with students to improve their reading skills.

Walter L. (“Sonny”) Winfree Jr., 85, Wayne, N.J.

July 27: Elizabeth A. Daley, 58, Falmouth

July 31: Roberta Lee (“Bobbie”) Ellis, 74, Edgartown
Bobbie loved to visit the Island of Martha’s Vineyard, where her daughter lived. Due to a long battle with lung disease, Bobbie would find herself living out her days on the Vineyard.

Jeffrey A. Shenefelt, Vineyard Haven
Jeff may be remembered as an “Island character,” walking in Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs mostly, singing and drumming at Open Mike at the Music Store, or dancing at Tivoli Day, the Ritz, the P.A. Club, etc. on one leg, his index finger pointing up to God, his hair long and stringy, his eyes closed in contemplation and sheer enjoyment of the music, the people he met, his opportunity to say a good word or do a good deed.

August 2: Stephen W. Rose, 76, Edgartown

Simone M. Prada, 95, Cape Coral, Fla.
On Martha’s Vineyard, Simone was a secretary for Stuart Avery in the early years of the Martha’s Vineyard Historical Preservation Society, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, and the Edgartown business Call for Help.

Charles T. Morgan, 59, West Tisbury
The summer cycle of all-consuming work at the Bite dominated family life. Their daughter, Mary, was born on Dec. 9, 2000, a blessing and a joy to Charlie. With Jackie at work, Charlie and his mother-in-law, Barbara Flynn, shared summer childcare duties. Later, when Mary was old enough, she was part of a Bite crew that included lots of Island kids over the years. Charlie helped out behind the scenes and with repairs. “He married my family, and he took it graciously,” Jackie said. When the couple were not working, they built a house off Lower Indian Hill Road while living in a trailer.

August 3: Arthur Yorke Allen, 83, Edgartown

Suzanne Bunker, 74
Suzie’s independent spirit followed her through her teenage years, when she would drive around on her motorcycle dressed only in her bikini. She was also daring enough to swim out to the Menemsha bell buoy.

August 4: Nancy Kingsley, 89
On the Vineyard, Nancy became deeply involved with the Martha’s Vineyard Museum (Historical Society) and the Featherstone Center for the Arts, where she was a board member, mentor, patron, donor, and curator. She recently curated two well-received shows featuring the works of Stan Murphy. She began painting at the age of 68, and created many gorgeous paintings, which have been displayed in many local shows.

August 7: Robert L. (“Junior”) Graves Jr., 87, Sarasota, Fla.
When not at his shop, he could always be found on a beach or bridge fishing, as he was an avid fisherman and outdoorsman. He won first place in the National Field Archery Association’s Massachusetts State Championship in 1997, and scored in the top three in several other New England archery competitions. He was a former vice-president of the Martha’s Vineyard Rod and Gun Club, and served as a board member of the Chappaquiddick Sportsmen’s Club.

August 11: John Edward (“Jack”) Behrle, 74, Chilmark
Jack was on Martha’s Vineyard, his “happy” place, where he spent the last day of his life doing what he loved most: the regular 15-mile bike ride; sunning and swimming at Lucy Vincent, his favorite beach; and then entertaining his extended family for a lobster dinner at home.

Mary P. Valenzano, 87, Edgartown

August 12: Peter Worden Look, 84, Edgartown
Peter lived all his life in Edgartown. He served on the Edgartown Fire Department for 57 years as deputy fire chief, retiring at the mandatory age of 70. He served as a deputy sheriff for Dukes County, then chief court officer for 30 years, retiring in 1999. He worked at the Harborside Liquor Store on Main Street for many years, then bought Al’s Package Store.

Luke Declan Ainslee Higgins, 5
Luke shared five years of joy, love, light, and strength with all. Luke touched many lives, and his favorite color was green.

August 17: Lucille G. Whitman, 91, St. Petersburg, Fla.
In the early 1950s Lucille worked at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, while her husband Bob was out fishing. Later they ran the Coffee Shop, where Rockfish is now. The Seafood Shanty on Dock Street was started by Bob and Lucille in 1960.

August 19: Mary Jane Carpenter, 76, Edgartown
Mary Jane gained a reputation for being able to unravel the most complicated land title problems on the Island, tracking land transfers back to the mid-17th century in many cases. Mary Jane was the Island’s resident expert on residential real estate, especially Edgartown, from her many years of doing title work. Once Anne Vose would identify the houses that would be on the annual Federated House Tour, Mary Jane would prepare the background on each, most often from memory, and would do the opening presentation to kick off the tour.

Shirley W. Mayhew, 94, West Tisbury
Shirley Walling moved to Martha’s Vineyard to take a summer job at the Harbor View hotel in 1946, the summer that she met Johnny Mayhew, who predeceased her in 2012. She was a mother, grandmother, and great grandmother, writing just recently about living in a household with four generations of women (the youngest being a 13th generation Mayhew), and one man. She was always busy, and known as profoundly curious and fearless. “I thought about dying in a plane crash every time I flew, but I didn’t dwell on it,” Shirley wrote about her travels. “Since that early flight in 1965, my children had grown up, and I had lived 58 good years, and ‘que sera, sera.’ There is great freedom in being unafraid.” One highlight late in her life was being invited to tell a story at a live performance of “The Moth Radio Hour” at the Tabernacle in Oak Bluffs, in August 2013 at the age of 87, in front of an audience of nearly 2,000.

August 20: Dennis Philip daRosa, 71, Chilmark
Oak Bluffs has no mayor, but friends always joked that if there was ever an election, Dennis daRosa would have won by a landslide. The longtime vice president and co-owner of daRosa’s Martha’s Vineyard Printing Co. was a fixture at the upper end of Circuit Avenue his whole life, since he first began learning the printing trade from his father, Antonio.

August 26: Roland G. Dumais, Yarmouth Port

Robert A. Blythe Jr., 78
Bob had a home on Martha’s Vineyard for more than 40 years; he spent the last 14 years of his retirement there, and was involved in many community activities.

August 27: Robert (“Bob”) Dutton, 58
Bob taught drama briefly at MVRHS, then found a way to incorporate his love of film and teaching at the M.V. Film Society. Bob was theater manager there, recognized as a friendly greeter of patrons. He provided informative introductions to films, and also taught many film classes to deepen appreciation for dramatic techniques and structure. Episodes of his series “Film Talk,” which have had thousands of views, can be found on the M.V. Film Society’s website under “Education.” Bob was active as a mentor in MVRHS’s Gay-Straight Alliance, and was working on starting a PFLAG organization on the island. He considered open-mindedness and love the highest values.

August 29: Brenda Joan Lynch, 73, Rochester

Sept. 2: Frank S. Yeomans, 80, Chilmark
After Frank moved to Martha’s Vineyard, he became very involved in local politics, and served on the Chilmark finance committee.

Royal Sinai Dumont, 98
Royal was famous for the pony rides on Silkie the pony that he personally gave to hundreds of children during that time, and being forever the teacher, they became mini lessons. The time at Misty Meadows filled the need for contact with people.

Sept. 3: Suzanne K. Blake, 61, Edgartown
After retiring from dental hygiene, Sue found true love and happiness “on the water,” working and laughing with her husband Jack as an “oyster girl.” She always had a smile on her face, and sparkle in her beautiful golden eyes when she was on the farm with Jack raising the oysters and just being truly happy together.

Sept. 5: David Mayoh Lawton, 84, East Chop
From his earliest days, Dave enjoyed boating, beginning with sailboats and racing, and later powerboats and fishing. He loved spending time at the beach, reading and chatting with friends and teaching his children, and then his grandchildren, to swim over the years. Dave supported the East Chop community any way he could, and enjoyed his time serving on the boards and various volunteer committees at the clubs.

Former Gov. Stephen E. Merrill, 74

Helen L. Hartmann Black, 75, Edgartown
While living on the Vineyard, Helen spent her time planting beautiful gardens and remodeling their home. She loved music, James Taylor in particular, and was ecstatic to have met him one winter day while visiting Lucy Vincent Beach. Every Sunday they drove their iconic baby blue pickup truck out to Chappy, where they spent the day at the Jetties on East Beach with friends. Much to her husband Tom’s chagrin and their friends’ delight, she would bring a minimum of three coolers to the beach for the day, stuffed with all sorts of culinary delights she’d cook up on their grill.

Sept. 9: Louise Frances Griffin Gould, 87, Vineyard Haven

Sept. 10: William Dean Holtham, 71, Kingfield, Maine
Will fondly recounted numerous stories of working at and/or managing Valleys Steak House, Anthony’s Pier 4, and the Cummaquid Restaurant before owning and operating his beloved Home Port Restaurant in Menemsha in 1977, followed by the Bite and Square Rigger Restaurant.

Sept. 11: John Early, 74, Chilmark
When John ran for selectman of West Tisbury at 30, a hippie with long hair who drove a truck, nobody imagined he’d serve 30 years, contribute to the work of just about every town committee, and see the town through explosive growth and change. Among his missions was improving the Town Hall, a project that was underway when he retired. He also served on the West Tisbury School building committee, and was the town’s delegate to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission for decades. For 40 years, he was an active member of the West Tisbury Volunteer Fire Department, rising to assistant chief. Though he joked that the department “never lost a foundation,” he took its work and the safety of his colleagues very seriously.

Lenore Adele Irion, Saxtons River Vt.
Lenore’s love of the Island began in 1957 when her family first took their annual vacation up-Island for three glorious weeks. Many of her favorite places and memories are from the Island. It was there she made her closest friends.

Sept. 12: Roy Langley, 92, Edgartown

Sept. 14: Theodore Chandler Howes, 60, Waterloo, N.Y.

Sept. 18: Joseph Francis (“Chuck”) Duart III, 69, Vineyard Haven

Sept. 21: Hugh Charles Crall, Esq., 86, Oak Bluffs
Hugh loved hunting with his Irish setters, taking long fishing trips, camping, boating, and clamming on Martha’s Vineyard.

Sept. 22: Steven John Milkovich, 55, Edgartown

Sept. 24: S. David Cronig, 106, Vineyard Haven
David was enormously proud of his work and service to the Island community in the growth of the market over the years, and took great pleasure from an unwavering commitment to his role as a Freemason.

Sept. 25: Martha Moore Schmidt, 90
Martha often said, “Salt water cures everything.” Growing up on West Chop, she learned to sail in Beetle Cats at the Vineyard Haven Yacht Club. She moved up to racing VH-15s with her friends and brothers. While she loved one-design sailboats in Vineyard waters or bareboating in the Caribbean, she was just as happy on a Sunfish in Vineyard Sound, as long as there was a good wind, or when accompanied by her dogs Kinsale, Gillie, or Lily.

Sept. 27: William Philip Reynolds, 75, Edgartown

Sept. 30: Lynn B. Gatchell, 69, Oak Bluffs
There may not be one Island family who has not been touched in some way by the annual Christmas lights display at Lynn’s home on County Road. Part festive gathering, part fundraiser for the Island Food Pantry, for many families this has been a go-to destination for decades. Many of Lynn’s students have become parents themselves, and bring their own children to see the lights.