Family, Friends, Island Gather to Honor Life of Marc Widdiss

By JOSHUA SABATINI

Friends and family of the late Marc E. Widdiss gathered in the Aquinnah cemetery Saturday afternoon for a graveside ceremony underneath a clear sky, meeting later at Aquinnah Circle for a celebration of his life.

Mr. Widdiss, of Aquinnah, died June 17 at age 54 after a three-year battle with leukemia. His wife, Beverly, was at his bedside at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

The service began at 2 p.m. alongside Mr. Widdiss's resting place, a verdant hill bordered by a grassy and wooded landscape. A song from a group of Wampanoag tribal members was followed by remarks by the Rev. Roger Spinney.

"It is our time this day to celebrate Marc's life, his involvement in the Island community, and in each one of our lives," Reverend Spinney said. "It is with sorrowful hearts, yet acquired confidence that we gather to express our appreciation and love for the one who is a very dear person Marc Edward Widdiss."

The reverend read a psalm of David, followed by a passage from Revelations.

"We have lost a most dear and valuable person," he said. Referring to the gravestone, the reverend addressed Mr. Widdiss's wife: "It reads right, Beverly - ‘Loving husband, son and brother.'

"Cousin, friend to many, he was many things to many people, and I cannot list all the things he was involved in," he continued. "You are going to hear about a lot of them later. I wonder how he found time for everything.

"He was involved in so many parts of the life of so many people. Marc will continue to live on in his deeds and his actions and in many hearts as many of you folks who are here this day.

"He spent the last three years in struggle. He faced battles that we can only imagine: confinement, sleepless nights and frustration. But he's been set free.

"If there is a Harley in heaven I am sure he is on it now," said Reverend Spinney.

He recalled a moment early last month when Marc walked into the church to say words to the congregation.

"He had dignity, determination and faith, that he displayed that I will never forget and moved every one of us in prayer that day. He is a child of God. He will be mourned, he will be missed."

Reverend Spinney's remarks were followed by words from Marc's brother, Donald Widdiss, who described his brother as intelligent, irascible and opinionated.

Mr. Widdiss said those gathered could see a part of his brother's resting place, but that "he is where he is, that is all around us.

"I want you all to take a breath and look around at Aquinnah on this day because Marc brought you this day."

Mr. Widdiss explained that the day he learned of his brother's passing there was a thunder and lightning storm.

On the drive to the hospital where Marc laid, Mr. Widdiss said they passed through "probably the most hellacious thunderstorm of the summer." After visiting Marc in the hospital, Mr. Widdiss said they drove to a home and saw "the clouds parted and the moon came out.

"I don't believe in coincidence," said Mr. Widdiss. "Coincidence in Marc's life is that all of us here were touched by him.

"You folks have made it easy. You folks are here and cared enough about Marc and our family. Each of you honored him in your own way. Remember him as he was."

Mr. Widdiss said he discussed his brother's passing with the tribe's medicine man, whom he said told him that "only very special people travel from the physical into the spiritual world through thunder, lightning and cleansing rain."

"He left us with thunder and lightning, rain," said Mr. Widdiss. "We stand here before the best country we call Aquinnah. He has given to us this day so we could see one another and allow us to celebrate his life the way he requested."

Mr. Widdiss concluded his emotional words by reading a poem, one he had reread a month ago, Dylan Thomas's Do Not Go Gentle Into that Good Night.

An elder Widdiss read Ode to a Fine Gentleman, something he wrote: "His irreplaceable loss has left a huge cavity in our society, our thoughts of Marc will be a priority."

James Paquette, president of the Martha's Vineyard Harley Riders, stood before those gathered and read a letter that began, "Dear Marc."

"We will miss you, thank you for being a part of [the club]," it said in part. "Your tenacity and lengthy anecdotes will never be forgotten."

A group of veterans, who were lined up on top of the hill throughout the service, bestowed military honors. A member called out: "Firing squad, salute the dead." Three shots were fired over the land, and a trumpet sounded while the veterans remained saluting.

The service concluded when each of those gathered said a prayer to Marc Widdiss by one at a time making a tobacco offering at a small fire near his resting place. Soon, there appeared flying overhead a red-tailed hawk.

After the graveside ceremony, a large gathering took place at Aquinnah Circle to celebrate Marc's life. Food and drink were served and a band played all afternoon.

The gathered crowd included people from on and off the Island - family members and friends, political figures including state representative Eric Turkington and Vineyard selectmen, county commissioners and more - all milling about and conversing about the fond memories of Marc forever engraved in their hearts. There were tears and laughter, hugs and handshakes, jokes and story telling.

The diverse crowd represented the many different facets of Marc's life. He was a carpenter for John Early Construction for many years and over time held a variety of political positions, including as an Aquinnah selectman. As a member of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), he served on the tribal council. He was also a volunteer fireman for the old Gay Head fire department and a member of the Martha's Vineyard Commission.

From the words spoken at the circle gathering, Marc clearly possessed a strong character and he inspired confidence in those he met.

"When I first came here 14 years ago, Marc was an inspiration," said Lenny Pollucci, Aquinnah's dog catcher and fire captain.

Mr. Pollucci said Marc took him out on a routine Sunday radio check on a fire truck. "He was the sweetest, most gracious person, and I felt so at home with him that I joined the fire department, and I became captain with his inspiration," he added. "He was a lovely, sweet man, very endearing, very warm, and I felt so at ease with him. He had a very disarming personality. I admired him."

Many came from Marc's home town, bringing with them boyhood memories.

His political record was exemplary as well as his conduct in such matters. Henry J. Sockbeson, a tribal attorney at one time, remembers Marc's dedication to one political issue in particular - the tribal land claim settlement.

"Marc was always the guy who would stand up and tell it like it was," said Mr. Sockbeson. "You never have to worry about Marc not expressing himself articulately and accurately. In fact, if it hadn't been for Marc and his family, the settlement wouldn't have happened. He was instrumental. He had a presence about him, you knew you could count on him."

John Early knew Marc as an employee, friend and political figure. "He was eminently fair as a political figure, even-handed and level headed," he said. "Could be volatile. Towards the end of his career his letters to the editor were something to look forward to."

Eric Ropke, a friend of Marc's for 18 years and a coworker, said, "He was never afraid to speak what was on his mind, but what he said was never said for his own end. What he fought for was not just what he wanted, but what he thought was best for everybody, be it the tribe, the town or the Island."

Everyone spoke of Marc's great sense of humor, which he displayed in a variety of settings from heated political debates to just entertaining his friends.

"He was one of the funniest men I have ever met," Mr. Ropke said. "The exchange of wit on the job from day to day was better than Saturday Night Live."

Another of Mr. Widdiss's passions that people spoke of on Saturday was his passion for sports. Some remembered him on the diamond playing softball, others for his opinions about a wide range of sports.

Steve Schwab recalled watching NASCAR and Formula One racing events with Marc, and once in the 1980s traveling with him to actually see the Indianapolis 500.

Members of the Island's Harley Club characterized Marc as a "high-mileage rider" on his Harley FXR.

As a friend, Mr. Early describes Marc as most do. "He was probably the most decent human being I have ever known. He was just so considerate and caring of everybody, not just his friends, anybody," said Mr. Early. "One adjective to describe him - exuberant. He couldn't wait to tell you something, whether it was a joke, or about politics."

Others said Marc "wore his heart on his sleeve."

Anyone who came into contact with Marc valued his friendship. The stories told about Marc at the Aquinnah Circle showed those who were his friends felt honored.

"I feel very privileged to have been his friend," said Mr. Ropke. "The diversity of the people that are here, gives you an idea of the fact - it didn't have anything to do with what you looked like on the outside, but it had to do with who you were as a person. If he chose to name you as friend you

couldn't have done any better."

The stories and memories rolled on through the afternoon and into the evening and will continue on and on.

"As people say," Mr. Ropke noted, "as long as you live in people's memories you never die. In the 18 years that I knew Marc, just between he and I, I have enough memories to keep him alive for a long time.

"I am sure you will hear the same thing from people here that knew him."