I never saw him in a Gorilla suit — or in a helmet for that matter. (Though I’m told he played these parts very well). But the penny loafers were ubiquitous. And Darmanesque? Well, for those who knew Richard Gordon Darman on the Island, Darmanesque meant being insightful, thoughtful, perspicacious — and just about always right.
Dick Darman was more than a guy who could sit down with you and (literally) tell you how the budget of the United States of America worked — but yes, that truly was something he could do. Dick was a guy who could get to the heart of the matter — most any matter — rather quickly, though maybe not always with tact. And get to the matter he did when it came to addressing the important issues facing the Vineyard. He loved the Island. And he gave to it. He gave money — and he gave his time. Watching that big brain engage was something some of us on the Island were privileged to observe. When he was here, he was passionate and he was focused.
To effectively address stewardship of the Edgartown Great Pond for example, Dick was instrumental about a decade ago, in founding the Great Pond Foundation, and he continued as an active director until his death late last month. In the work regarding the pond, Dick wanted information. Facts. Among his many accomplishments — some quite arcane — was his extensive understanding (and writing) about ocean resources. But regarding the pond, he was more student than expert. For Dick, there was cause and effect and he would not long tolerate loose, anecdotal discourse. Oh! I am sure for example, that while some of us droned on interminably (one of his favorite words) during one of our conference calls, he would be listening somewhat and reading the newspaper or responding to e-mails or doing who knows what with the mute button activated on his speaker phone. But then would come that incisive moment when we would hear “That’s just not relevant” or, “ . . . even if we do learn the answer to that, how can it possibly change what we need to do?” I have no doubt that the cause underlying the Pond Foundation’s present initiative to acquire a dredge, was Dick Darman’s compelling logic, focus and perseverance. He had an uncanny ability to see what had to be done; and to see it through.
And, was he fun. When I asked him why he had chosen to live on the Edgartown Great Pond, he said (with that self-effacing, impish smile) that it was as far away from where he had lived on the Island previously as he could get without leaving the Island.
When his son Emmet was practically a newborn, Dick could be seen carrying him — holding Emmet’s head just so — around Main street in Edgartown. He would hold him up to a shop window and educate the infant with pithy comments about items on display, or step into the hardware store and tell him that the people working there were nice and knew how to fix anything.
Dick soaked up an understanding how things worked and he wanted others to join him in that understanding. His smile was an invitation, an open door that said “join me.” Surely what Dick accomplished in his life could not have been so without the well developed ego found in all similarly successful people. When he walked into a room, instead of sucking oxygen from the air, he contributed to the breathing room around him. When we were working on pond projects we worked more — not less — when we were around him. Dick was one of those people who always knew what he was talking about. Because if he didn’t know, he didn’t speak. Ask questions, yes. Talk, no. I once asked him in 1986, I think, what could be done to stimulate investment in K-12 education and to reverse the downward spiral of our schools. “Damned if I know,” he answered. And that was it.
At other times he had so many thoughtful and encouraging things to say. Over lunch with my then college-age daughter, he complimented her for not knowing what she was going to do after graduating. “You know,” he said, “adolescence lasts till 30, unless of course you are going to be a mathematician. If that’s the case, you had better decide by 26. After that, as far as the brain is concerned, game’s over!”
During the long years of battle over the future of Herring Creek Farm, Dick was a constant coach. I do not think anybody better understood the multiple factors at work in the Herring Creek Farm situation. His lucidity and cogent thinking may have done more to bring about the 2001 transaction which saved the farm from extensive development than any other single contribution. Most of all, Dick knew that there is something magnetic about being around the Edgartown Great Pond, and with alacrity he fueled initiatives to sustain its character.
He was right most of the time about most things. And he knew it. He was also sensitive, kind and encouraging. And there was an introspective side to him with its own humility. Walking around his library with him last summer — a place filled, like everywhere in his home, with framed articles and other memorabilia incredible for their connection to late 20th century history — I said, “What an incredible time to have been alive — and to have you!” He laughed and said: “You’re right.”
He once told a friend over lunch that he was looking forward that afternoon to learning what job in the White House he was to be offered. “I think it is going to be a good one,” he said. “Otherwise I might have to adjust my opinion of others’ opinions of me.”
In my mind’s eye I can see the smile, that confident, playful smile. If you knew Dick Darman, I hope you can see it and will remember it too.
Rob Hughes lives in Edgartown and Santa Barbara, Calif.