‘A huge loss for the community’

George Balco and Harold Chapdelaine mourned in Tisbury.

The town lost two dedicated public servants over the weekend — Harold Chapdelaine, left, and George Balco.

Updated April 12

The town of Tisbury lost two civic leaders — George Balco and Harold Chapdelaine. Both men died over the weekend — Balco on Sunday after a long illness, and Chapdelaine on Saturday, after a more recent illness.

“It’s a huge loss for the community,” Tristan Israel, a Dukes County commissioner and former Tisbury select board member, said.

Balco, 81, most recently served as the Port Council representative for Vineyard Haven to the Steamship Authority. He had also been on the town’s finance committee — serving as its chair for many years — and took part in a wide array of government and civic organizations.

“I’ll sorely miss George Balco and the counsel he provided to me and others,” town administrator Jay Grande told The Times. “His endless commitment to the town and public service — it’s very sad to hear.”

Grande recalled that Balco served on the interview committee when he applied for the town administrator’s job. “He was involved in lots of things, not just town government or the SSA. Very forward-thinking.”

John Cahill, who took over after Balco stepped down from the Port Council, said, “He was a standup guy, and loved his work for the SSA.”

Israel said he always enjoyed working with Balco on town and SSA issues. “George was one of a kind. He loved the town, and devoted a lot of energy to the community. He was a consummate gentleman with a unique sense of humor,” he said. “George did his homework.”

SSA general manager Robert Davis issued a statement about Balco’s death. “I am saddened to hear of George Balco’s passing. George was appointed to the Port Council in January 2009, and represented Tisbury ably and fully for 12 years. During his tenure, George lent us his valuable expertise on a number of important projects, including the development and launch of the MV Woods Hole, the start of the Woods Hole Terminal Reconstruction Project, and the development of our fuel hedging program. He never forgot his core responsibility to keep the needs of Tisbury and Martha’s Vineyard front and center in everything the authority did, and he made sure our staff remembered it, too. George’s wisdom and insights made the Steamship Authority a better organization, and he will be missed.”

According to his son, Balco was in the U.S. Army, stationed in Germany from 1961 to 1963. He spent his off-Island career as a financial analyst and fund manager with Brown Brothers Harriman & Co. before moving to the Island full-time in 1997.

Along with the finance committee and Port Council, he also served on the sewer review board, the Martha’s Vineyard Airport Commission, the Community Preservation committee, as Tisbury DPW commissioner, and as a library trustee, among other things. He was the former president of Mink Meadows.

Carol Brush first met Balco through a writing program, and later worked with him at her husband’s real estate agency, Muskeget Associates, while her husband was in Moscow.

“He had a wonderful sense of humor,” Brush said, noting that Balco had a high IQ and was a member of the Mensa society. “He was so smart and kind, and a wonderful guy.”

Chapdelaine served as the building committee chair for the Tisbury School project, shepherding it through to its overwhelming approval by voters last year. He was also on the William Street Historic District Commission. “He was the person you went to to get things on the right track and moving in a positive direction,” Grande said of Chapdelaine. He had the ability to bring people together, Grande added.

Jim Rogers, a former select board member who served with Chapdelaine on the building committee, said he first met Chapdelaine when he came to the Vineyard in the late ’70s or early ’80s. They played hockey together.

“Everything he did was just quality,” Rogers said of Chapdelaine. “It’s so sad that he got sick and passed so quickly. He was one of those people who always took care of other people.” Rogers complimented Chapdelaine’s work on both the building committee and historic commission. “Everything he did was straightforward, honest. He did a great job with the historic commission for a long time, and anything else he ever did,” Rogers said. “He was fantastic on the school building committee. Harold kept things moving, didn’t let us get bogged down. He did a great job.”

Israel didn’t always see eye to eye with Chapdelaine, particularly on the school project, but he respected him. “[Harold] is also someone who gave a lot of his time and passion to our community. I always enjoyed discussing issues with him. He had his own point of view, but he was passionate and thoughtful,” Israel said. “He was someone you could have a constructive conversation with, which is not something you come across these days.”

According to his obituary, Chapdelaine moved to the Island in 1979 when his wife, Joan, got a job as a nurse at Martha’s vineyard Hospital. Chapdelaine opened Stonebridge Building and Design after working in the construction community for Lee Welch, according to his obituary.

Balco was the father of Catherine (“Cat”) Balco and Greg Balco.

Visiting hours at the Chapman Funerals and Cremations, Edgartown Road in Oak Bluffs will be held on Friday, April 22, from 5 to 7 pm.

His funeral Mass will be celebrated in St. Augustine’s Church, Franklin Street in Vineyard Haven, on Saturday, April 23, at 11 am. Burial will follow in the Oak Grove Cemetery, State Road in Vineyard Haven, with military honors provided by the veterans of Martha’s Vineyard.

Chapdelaine is survived by his wife, Joan, and daughters, Elise and Michele, as well as Michele’s husband, Colin, and their children Audrey and Liam. 

A service will be held Friday, April 22, at St. Augustine’s Church, with a celebration of life to follow at the Agricultural Hall, from 1 to 4 pm. 

Updated to include more details.


  1. I’m going to miss Harold a lot.
    I served as co chair on the WSHDC with him for years. We saw eye to eye often but disagreed too. Always at the end of a meeting we would talk for a few minutes then he’d run off to pick up Joan at the boar, get home for dinner or rush off to another meeting. Always was amazed at his energy.
    A few weeks back I got to sit with him and say goodbye. Harold you are off on another adventure. Most likely sailing into the Caribbean full sail, sun glasses on and grinning from ear to ear.
    Eight Bells with a good wind in your sails.

  2. George Balco was one of the most civic-minded people I’ve ever known. He gave so much of his time and talents to our town for decades. He was a wonderful source for me when I was a reporter at the Martha’s Vineyard Times, always so well-informed, knowledgeable about countless details of town government, and always willing to take the time to explain complicated budget questions. We had so many great conversations through the years. He and my husband served on the FinCom together, so their paths crossed, as well. George was also a loyal supporter of American Legion Post 257 in Vineyard Haven, in attendance at many events. Since last spring he and I served together on the Vineyard Haven Public Library’s board of trustees, where he continued to provide his wise direction. Tisbury has lost an invaluable resource. I will miss him. Our condolences to his family.

  3. Harold Chapdelaine was the heart of both the Tisbury Historic Commission and the new school building effort. As a builder, he was skilled, creative, and cared about the quality of every project. He was supportive to his crew members, and a friend to his clients. He showed up one day during a downpour and announced it was a great time to figure out where the water had been getting through our roof. We sat for an hour on the floor in a tight corner of our dark, unfinished attic watching. He found it and fixed it, of course. And you always knew when Harold was in the neighborhood, because he could carry on a conversation from two houses away. Carolyn and I will sadly miss him, and we send our condolences to his family.

  4. George Balco was one of the most knowledgeable, committed people ever to represent Vineyard Haven. He had a deep grasp of the town issues and was patient with others less informed Whether it was by participating in Steamship Authority matters, the Seaport Council, Fin Com, the DPW, or the library, he never stopped sharing his expertise or volunteering to help when the Town needed a strong hand. And he was a warm and giving father and grandfather to his family. And we will miss him terribly.

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