A lobster pot filled with a bouquet of colorful flowers adorned the top of the casket for one of the Island's best-known fishermen, selectmen and friend. Hundreds stood in silence during the graveside service for Herbert Hancock on Sunday afternoon. Mr. Hancock died April 26 at the age of 71.
An osprey flew high above Chilmark Pond. Friends and family stood below on a grassy knoll at the Abel's Hill Cemetery.
"Friends, we have gathered here to praise God and to witness to our faith as we remember and celebrate the life of Herbert Hancock," said the Rev. Arlene Bodge. She described him as the "Selectman, lobsterman, builder and artist; husband, father, brother, brother in law, grandfather, uncle and friend."
The solemn gathering included more than 350 people, spanning the ages, from infants to Island seniors. Most walked to the hilly knoll, a few came by wheelchair. Friends and family came from around the Island and from afar.
A tall but leafless oak tree provided no shade for those standing under the bright spring sun.
Hugh Taylor of Aquinnah read a poem about a man taking a journey into an unknown sea.
Sharon Eber sang a solo of On Eagles Wings.
Mr. Hancock's daughter, Deborah, read a poem: "Do not stand at my grave and weep; I am not there, I do not sleep."
The program continued with a Masonic service, officiated by worshipful master R. Samuel Carroll of Menemsha. Prayers were read. A branch of acacia was placed on the casket.
Reverend Bodge said she had asked Mr. Hancock weeks ago if there was anything more that he wanted for his service. "He said: ‘I don't want people standing in the cold. I want a simple service.' And he wanted a party afterwards."
The reverend turned and looked across the landscape of faces and noted that the spring air was warm.
She said: "Herbert, your memory is as sweet to us as the fragrance of a flower and as everlasting as the evergreen."
Just as Mr. Hancock had requested, a ceremony of celebration followed at the Chilmark Community Center, only a few miles away. There was plenty of food and drinks for all - from home-cooked soups to desserts; and the center was decorated with flowers and photographs of Mr. Hancock as a youngster, during his days at the Tisbury High School and out on the waters off Gay Head.
Dorothy Bangs, a retired music teacher from Tisbury, recalled Herbert as a senior at the Tisbury school. She said Mr. Hancock and Bob Tilton put polliwogs in her pocketbook. "He was among my first graduates from the Tisbury High School, in 1947," she said. "I have very pleasant memories of him."
Among the Island's top builders, men talked among themselves and described Herbert Hancock as their mentor. Among the top Island lobstermen, they described him similarly.
Emmett Carroll, 57, of Chilmark, a pallbearer, knew Mr. Hancock in many ways, under many successful hats, first as a builder and years later as a lobsterman. "When I was 11 years old Herbert hired me as a carpenter's helper and mason tender," Mr. Carroll said.
In more recent times, Mr. Carroll shifted his attention from building to lobster fishing, he said: "Herbert was there to help me."
Earl Peters of Oak Bluffs, a plumber and avid recreational fisherman, said: "When Herbert was a recreational fisherman there was no one who could do better."
Mr. Hancock's wife, Billie, and her brother in law, Robert F. Harrel, Jr. of Darien, Conn., stood up and spoke to the crowd from the front of the hall. Mrs. Hancock thanked the community for its kindness, caring and support over the last difficult winter.
Looking at her sister Betty's husband, she thanked all the members of the family. Mrs. Hancock said: "Hospice volunteers were so great. They are the most wonderful people in the world."
She spoke of love being expressed to all the members of her extended family, of long days and nights. She spoke of her late husband's final hours of life.
Other speakers included residents Ron Rappaport and Andy Goldman. Russell Smith of Aquinnah, state legislative liaison, also spoke.
Mr. Goldman said: "I had the honor of being Herb's friend.
"Herb had a lot of sayings. He used to say ‘Old Sport.' He also used to say, ‘Don't worry.' He used to say it loud.
"Well, now we will all have to worry. Because we don't have Herb around. We better worry. Now we have to work together on that vision."
Deborah Hancock, daughter, read a letter she had received from a friend, Jim Kuhe of West Hartford, which spoke of memories of her father down on the Menemsha waterfront. The letter finished: "I'll always remember Herb standing at the top of the steps; handsome; his face carved by the wind, sea and unspeakable tragedies; and always a white T-shirt that defined the color white."