David Joseph Duarte

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David Joseph Duarte, a native son of Martha’s Vineyard, died in his sleep during the early morning hours on Oct. 17, 2022, from causes related to Lewy body dementia. He was 81 years old.

 He was born on Jan. 4, 1941, in the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital to parents Emelia Burgess Duarte and Manuel (“Manny”) Silva Duarte. David had three siblings, Jimmy, Paula, and Helen (deceased). The four second-generation Duarte progeny have streets named after them in the Lambert’s Cove area, in the vicinity of the former family-owned 80-acre tract where the Duarte’s Pond cranberry bogs were located. Back in the day, the large barn on the property was renovated into apartment dwellings by David’s wheeler-dealer entrepreneur father, Manny, which would house the famed Love Inn of the Sixties, and the later Bogside Apartments (mid-Seventies). In addition, these apartments were the off- and on-again residence of David with his first wife, Lolita (née Campbell), second wife Abby (née Alvin) and third wife, Joyce (née Humphreys; deceased). 

Dave, as many friends called him, was in no way your average fella. He was reputed to have the highest I.Q. of his day in the Tisbury School, and was an extraordinarily handsome, charismatic, and caring adult. He was a master fisherman, and held a couple of world records for catching bonito. Dr. Finklestein said, “Dave could read the water.” Not only that — Duarte was one of only a few men who could say he had kayaked all the way around the Island of Martha’s Vineyard. 

As an aside, he had a doppelganger. A summer season didn’t go by without several strangers inquiring, “Aren’t you Trippy Barnes?” or, “How’s the moving business going, Trip?” Eventually, Dave just answered, “Oh, great. Thanks for asking!” 

However, none of these exalted attributes helped David in his early years. He had a troubled childhood and grew into a youth who had no understanding of the adults around him. The teenager felt unloved and devoid of redeeming qualities. Feeling special to no one, the youngster found solace in the animals of the fields and woods on the Island. 

Manny and Emilia Duarte and their brood lived in Vineyard Haven on North William Street. David was popular among his neighborhood buddies for creating adventurous afterdinner games and hijinks in their environs pre-bedtime. A neighborhood gang leader was born! This gave David a sense of power and self-esteem, and eventually the hijinks turned into vandalism and truancy, i.e. breaking windows, tripping over gravestones, breaking and entering, petty theft, stealing gas caps. The long dark winters on the Rock were cold, dark, and boring for these young males seeking an outlet for their abundant energy and awakening hormones. As a result, David was in and out of juvies and correctional facilities.

The adrenaline rush of the forbidden acts became a menacing prelude to the birth of the adrenaline junkie, resulting in the 17-year-old doing time in lockup — 2½ years in the Plymouth House of Correction, plus one year and a day on and after, for arson. In the early morning hours of June 8, 1958, he’d set fire to the stately Tashmoo Inn, one of the best-known landmarks on Martha’s Vineyard, located adjacent to the Duarte family home in Vineyard Haven. In addition, during these turbulent years, David had been sentenced to a three-month stint in the infamous Bridgewater State Hospital for the Criminally Insane (of “Titicut Follies” fame), which was shut down in 1972 due to its “cruel, inhuman, and barbarous” treatment of inmates. The stay, albeit of short duration, implanted horrific images in the teenager’s brain that scarred him for life, engendering a post-traumatic syndrome not unlike those acquired in a war zone. David was told he was the only inmate to leave Bridgewater who could read or write.

As strange as it may seem, David found a sense of acceptance, self-worth and esteem among his fellow inmates at Plymouth H.C. The powers that be put him to work in the prison bakery, where David excelled at his task, forming a lifelong love for the culinary arts. The fellow cons liked him. The guys loved listening to his stories about the Vineyard, and looked forward to reading the “Bird News” in the Vineyard Gazette David’s mom sent him weekly. The fact that anyone would be interested in an article about birds broke them up. The only birds they were familiar with were jailbirds. “Wow, I’m good at something,” David thought to himself, “I bake bread for 200 inmates, times three meals a day, every day of the week. My coworkers in the bakery like me and depend on me. Life is good!” Following 2½ years in prison minus good days and six months, David was pardoned and released from prison early for good behavior and was never sent to a house of correction again. He had learned his lesson. 

It was the early Sixties, when social and political upheaval was fomenting in the American cauldron as never before: racial equality, the Vietnam War backlash of young America, the unraveling of stringent sexual mores due to the Pill, flower power trumping gun power, the burgeoning use of weed and LSD. “Let the old men fight their wars,” said the nubile, “love conquers all.” 

The first item on David’s bucket list post-prison was to finish high school. He had studied and racked up some high school credits in juvies and Plymouth H.C., only needed a few more to get his diploma, and planned to finish up at the new regional high school on the Vineyard. The ex-con was bent on turning a new leaf. He made an appointment with the MVRHS principal, but his appeal to finish his high school studies was soundly rejected. The principal and board of directors deemed David would be too much of a disruption to the students, considering his being a few years older, and having been in prison. The MVRHS hierarchy didn’t offer an alternate course of study for David to obtain his diploma or GED certificate. Case closed. That leaf would not be a page in a book. 

The second item on his bucket list was to lose his virginity! The third item on his bucket list was to buy a car. He loved cars, and was a walking Wikipedia on cars throughout his life. However, it was a tossup on what he loved the most: cars or the ladies. 

The only door open to David was to get a job. He went back to live with his parents until he could earn enough money to get a car and his own place to live. David got a job in construction, which served him well in becoming a skilled mason. In later years he worked as a shellfish warden in Oak Bluffs, and still later in healthcare. 

The horrors of Bridgewater that were stamped on David’s psyche continued to haunt his dreams, and he raided his mom’s medicine cabinet for any pharmaceuticals available to blur the mental images that plagued him. Some cons had mentioned the names of some pills that could work mind-altering miracles. He found a downer which didn’t suit him at all. It caused him to slide right off the roof of a church he was working on for a local contractor. So he tried his mom’s diet pills, a.k.a. amphetamines. Success: David had found his lifelong drug of choice, sprinkled here and there with weed, LSD, and eventually with vodka: Wake and bake, get high and fly your way through life. What doesn’t kill you makes you numb, and thumb your way through life — or is it your middle finger?

David has been dubbed “the first hippy on the Vineyard,” and his Love Inn the first commune. David was a true son of Martha’s Vineyard, and a true son of the Sixties. What is the saying by that clever wag? “If you can remember the Sixties, you weren’t there.” David couldn’t remember much, except that he’d married two of his wives during the Sixties: Lolita in 1963, and Abby, the mother of his daughter Thea, in 1967. And he continued to sink deeper and deeper into his amphetamine addiction. Maybe he was self-medicating; who knows? David was diagnosed with adult ADHD by a neurologist later in life. 

In 1972 David married Joyce Mayhew Humphreys. Her dad Argie owned and ran the ever-popular Island Food Shop Bakery, commonly known as Humphreys Bakery, in North Tisbury for many years. They were married for 28 years. Early into the marriage, David dropped in on a friend whom he found studying the Bible with two Jehovah’s Witness elders. He’d wanted his friend to ride with him over to Edgartown to score some primo black beauties, and was shocked at the scene he’d encountered in his pal’s kitchen! David was invited to sit down and join the discussion, which he did.

Curiosity overtook him. As a result of this encounter, David underwent an epiphany, and didn’t do drugs or alcohol from that moment on for the next 25 years. He and Joyce were both subsequently baptized into the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and devoted their lives to witnessing and testifying for Jehovah for a quarter of a century. David left the Kingdom Hall, but he never left Jehovah. He loved his ministry at the Kingdom Hall, and it is safe to say that the break with the Kingdom Hall was the biggest disappointment of his life. His marriage to Joyce ended as well. He briefly returned to the solace of amphetamines and vodka to ease the pain of separation from the Kingdom Hall. 

On April 22, 2002, David married Ginger Martin, a wash-ashore from Texas who moved into his neighborhood with her son Mark in April 2000. Ginger and David met at the mailbox. They were together for 20 years until his demise. Rest in peace, David. (A more detailed account of David J. Duarte’s life can be found in his published memoir, “Martha’s Vineyard Burning.”) 

David is survived by his two siblings, Jimmy and Paula; his fourth wife and partner Ginger Martin-Duarte; his daughter Thea Duarte Alvin; and by three grandchildren, Robyn Flanders Alvin and husband Matthew Hallett of Vermont, Aimee Flanders Hamilton and husband Eugene of North Carolina, and Caleb Flanders and wife Molly, also of Vermont.

A memorial service for David will be held on Saturday, May 6, 2023, at 11 am at Grace Episcopal Church in Vineyard Haven. A reception and luncheon will follow in the Parish Hall after the service.

6 COMMENTS

  1. I was one of the hippies in that big barn on Lamberts’s cove rod in 1967. David rescued me as I was falling way off the beam as a 19-year-old teen. David got me a job modeling for Stan Murphy and also at the Root beer stand in V.h. We fished side by side on the OB ferry pier for Bonito for many seasons during the MVSB&B Derby. A few years ago, David gave me his surf bag loaded with beautiful lures. He made a big difference in my life. Condolances to his daughter and her family and to Ginger. Please post when his service will take place. He will have a special spot in my heart as with many other islanders. RIP Dearest David.

  2. I met David after all his escapades. I had heard al the wild and crazy stories. When I met him, in the 70s he was well mannered, quiet and well spoken. His good looks got him into all the female trouble he could handle. But he did love his cars.

  3. My husband Paul was David’s cousin we had lots of fun visiting him you couldn’t ask for a better guy didn’t care for the obituary that Ginger posted but it is what it is

  4. Ginger, I am so sorry for your loss. David was a great step dad to Mark and I’m sure they are having a great time together with their many shenanigans. Sending love and strength 💜

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