Opening Doors to Reading
The Edgartown Library Foundation mourns the passing of Walter Cronkite, the most trusted man in America, who served as the foundation’s honorary chairman since 2006. “There is no better escape from ignorance in our free society than the open door of a public library,” said Mr. Cronkite in a recent promotion for expansion of the historic library. “Though it is just a small, albeit important, corner of the country, Edgartown, Massachusetts, represents all of the vibrant, striving cities, hamlets and towns throughout America that reflect renewed spirit and commitment to improving their education and enhancing their abilities as leaders and innovators. To my mind, this cannot be achieved unless we are well-read, well-informed citizens of the world.”
The library is in dire need of renovation and expansion to adequately serve its community. The original library building was a gift to the town in 1904 by steel magnate Andrew Carnegie who helped build more than 1,600 public libraries across this nation a century ago.
“Walter generously contributed so much to our community,” said Ed Jerome, former principal of the Edgartown School and longtime friend of Mr. Cronkite. “I recall when Walter spent an hour or so in the library with my seventh and eighth grade students, allowing them to ask questions and gain his historical perspective on world events. It was an experience I’ll never forget and neither will those children.”
Plans to honor Mr. Cronkite for his contributions to the Edgartown community and library project are forthcoming. For more information, please visit edgartownlibrary.org.
Robert Hughes is chairman of the library foundation, a private nonprofit group dedicated to raising funds to renovate and rebuild the public library.
My brother Jeff and I were probably young teenagers and we had rented a day sailer from the Harborside Inn in Edgartown. We were hardly experienced old salts at sailing, having taken a few classes from the inn to get our captain’s card. The two of us felt that it would be smart to stay in the harbor, so we decided to head down from the yacht club toward Katama Bay.
We began to tack back and forth and avoid other sailing vessels. It was a beautiful day and just the right amount of wind. Believe me when I say, it’s a great way to view the harbor and the homes along it. And that is exactly what the two of us began to do. Unfortunately, neither one of us thought it important to be steering the boat.
In our youthful amazement, we were looking up at one grand home up above the harbor to view a film crew at work in someone’s backyard. It was Walter Cronkite and he was busy filming a scene for one of his programs. There were many people up on the hill with cameras, lights and equipment. For a couple of teenagers, it was the closest thing to famous we had ever seen in our young lives. We were awestruck and just kept watching every movement up on the hill.
Not a smart thing to be doing when you are actually sailing a boat in a crowded harbor. The next thing we knew, there was Mr. Cronkite’s yacht, Wyntje, tied up at his pier. Only a few feet away from us and nowhere to go. Oops. My brother ran toward the bow of our boat to try to push us off from Wyntje, but we were moving too fast. We hit the boat with our right front side to his left rear. No damage but we weren’t going to hang around. Because of the size of his boat and the activity up on the hill, no one but us saw what happened.
We decided we saw enough and plotted a straight path toward Katama and out of sight. My brother and I love to tell this story only because we know that if Walter ever heard of it, he would have approved with a chuckle and a smile.
Rest in peace Walter Cronkite. I will always see you up on that hill filming that show and looking out at the beautiful harbor that you so loved. Thanks for the memories.
Sail Martha’s Vineyard sadly lost a longtime friend and supporter last weekend. Our flags fly at half mast in his honor. Walter Cronkite, our honorary chairman, earned his title by being part of a group that longed to perpetuate the Island’s maritime history and offer free sailing for Island kids. With Joe Hall, Ralph Packer, Nancy Hoffmann and others, they thought that bringing some of the Tall Ships to the Vineyard would bring an awareness of our maritime heritage.
Just three years ago he was the honorary commodore for our first Vineyard Cup Regatta and sailed in the regatta. He attended our annual seafood buffet and auction until two years ago! He was always there for us.
As a historian and longtime sailor he would have been pleased to see how successful our fourth Vineyard Cup Regatta was! To see all the sailboats gathered in the harbor and the community spirit at Owen Park afterwards, was certainly a tribute to him.
We will miss him, but he will continue to inspire us.
Peggy Schwier is president of Sail Martha’s Vineyard.
Testing the Waters
One morning, I answered the phone at my water testing lab on Martha’s Vineyard and was greeted by the inimitable baritone voice of Walter Cronkite.
Walter got right to the point, “Will your water testing results hold up in court?”
Thus began my working relationship with Walter in an effort to clean up pollution in Edgartown Harbor. Over six months, with Walter joining me on one outing, I took water samples in strategic locations around the harbor. When the study was complete, it was clear that the sailing yachts were emptying their holding tanks into the harbor’s waters — especially on race days.
Walter presented the study at a public hearing before the town selectmen. By the following summer, the town had new bylaws and created the Island’s first floating pump-out facility. As a result of this example, other harbor towns on the Island instituted similar bylaws with floating pump-out facilities.
This is one example of Walter Cronkite’s concern for the environment. Over the years, Walter visited at my nearby home, and I visited with Walter at his home overlooking Edgartown Harbor, and came to know his wife, Betsy, and his mother, Helen, as well as other members of his family. One day, I even held one of his grandchildren in my arms.
I was honored in 1985 when Walter wrote the cover story for my new publication, Martha’s Vineyard Magazine. After making me a cocktail on his screened porch overlooking Edgartown Harbor, Walter went into his home office and typed the article on his old manual typewriter. As I sat listening to the distant keys strike the roller, I admired the lines of Walter’s sailboat, Wyntje. When finished, Walter handed me the article to proof while he relaxed with a cocktail in the wicker chair across from me. I almost felt overwhelmed to be reading such a freshly minted article from Walter’s mind, never mind sitting there editing his writing. I thought the article was fine the way it was; however, Walter read the article again and made a few edits in pencil, and then signed the article with an ink pen. I am looking at the article now before me as I write this vignette.
Then in 1986, when the Vineyard aired its very first local TV broadcast on Channel 8, Walter was my guest on my one-half hour talk show entitled The Vineyard Voice. During the interview, Walter revealed for the first time that when he and Betsy purchased their home along Edgartown Harbor, they soon found themselves being the toast of many cocktail parties. At many of these parties, Walter recalled how his hosts were eager to share their Island history, oftentimes bragging about how many generations their family has lived on the Island. As fate would deliver, soon after moving to the Island, Walter received a letter in the mail from a distant relative. In this letter was documentation of Walter’s Island heritage reaching back to the Norton family — one of the Island’s founding families.
In 2001, Walter wrote the cover blurb for my book, The Holy Order of Water, Healing Earth’s Waters and Ourselves. This book included a chapter about Walter’s successful efforts in cleaning up the waters of Martha’s Vineyard.
Thank you, Walter, for a life lived with gracious honor. The world you left behind continues to benefit from your legacy. I think of you often while continuing with my efforts to help protect the integrity of our Earth’s waters. And that’s the way it is.
William E. Marks