After 18 years on the Oak Bluffs board of selectmen, Greg Coogan is ready to step away and not seek re-election in the spring.
Coogan grew up visiting the Island in the summer months, staying at a house his parents owned and going to the popular St. Pierre Camp, which was run by his aunt. He started going to the camp when he was 3 years old, and spent his last summer there at the age of 20 as a camp counselor.
Coogan’s decision to stay on the Island was made in 1972, when he and his friend, onetime Oak Bluffs selectman Duncan Ross, decided to stay through Thanksgiving, but ended up finding a permanent home on the Island.
He worked several jobs as a plumber, and at the Steamship Authority and Jim’s Package Store, before finding his calling as a math teacher at the Tisbury School, a post he would hold for 30 years. “I still miss teaching, but it was time to move on. The kids never got older, but I did,” Coogan said. “I think that’s the case with being a selectman. It’s time for somebody else to pick up the ball.”
While already retired from teaching, Coogan said he’s looking forward to spending more time with his grandkids and his boat, a 1922 Alden gaff-rigged sloop. He’ll also continue to be out on the ice at the Martha’s Vineyard Arena, playing hockey. “I can’t believe how many miles an hour I’ve lost on my skates. It must be the skates,” he said. “The thing about retirement that’s strange, of course, is you’re busy as can be before you retire, but then when you retire for some reason you get busier.”
Coogan originally decided to run for the town’s highest elected board back in 2003, as Oak Bluffs was in the throes of potentially removing itself from the Martha’s Vineyard Commission. The town stayed with the commission, but only by a close vote. “I thought that was a big mistake at the time,” Coogan, a member of the first commission in the early ’70s, said. “I thought highly of what the commission can do here … I’m a big believer in Islandwide issues.”
Another big moment during his tenure was the installation of the roundabout at the intersection of Barnes and Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road, which Coogan supported, but many Islanders did not.
“I differed on that with most of the people on the Island, or at least it seemed like most of them. They were the ones that yelled at me the loudest,” Coogan said. “I think that turned out to be the right decision. That was a tough political fight.”
Other projects Coogan was happy to see get done or on their way to being done are the Fire Department building and the town hall, which finally got approval from town voters last year. He was also proud of hiring Robert Whritneour as town administrator to solve the town’s financial issues. Now, Coogan says, the town is looking at the shared-use bike path that will connect to Tisbury.
Coogan, whose leadership style has always been one of finding compromise, said his favorite part of being a selectman was making informed decisions for the town. “I’ve made many pluses and many mistakes along the way; you keep trying to do your best. Some things work out and some things don’t, but you’ve got to keep trying,” Coogan said.
As for his successors, Coogan said being a selectman is about listening. “The thing I would say to pass on to somebody would be to shut out all the noise. You always get people who call you to say, ‘This is what you should do, that’s what you should do,’ but you really have to go to a meeting with an open mind, without your mind made up,” Coogan said. “That’s the most important thing, to come in without preconceived notions and listen to what’s presented and make a decision.”