In the memory of three well-known Vineyard residents who struggled with depression, a special fund has been established through Martha’s Vineyard Community Services to support mental health counseling services.
Called the Blues Brothers Fund, the fund honors humorist Art Buchwald, novelist William Styron, and journalist Mike Wallace, and is meant to raise money and awareness for those struggling with mental illnesses.
The fund has been organized with the help of Lucy Hackney, a Vineyard Haven resident, Martha’s Vineyard Community Services board member and a friend of the three men. Mr. Styron died in 2006; Mr. Buchwald died in 2007 and Mr. Wallace died in April of this year.
“Mike Wallace had depression, and Bill had depression, and Art had depression, and they were these three amazing guys that called themselves the Blues Brothers, and all of them had major mental illness,” Mrs. Hackney told the Gazette yesterday.
The three all spent summers at their homes in Vineyard Haven, and took daily walks together around their West Chop neighborhood. “We walked around in the rain together on Martha’s Vineyard and consoled each other,” Mr. Wallace told the New York Times in an interview.
They are now buried near each other at the West Chop cemetery.
“There is something about the Vineyard that binds us all together,” Mr. Buchwald told the Gazette in an interview shortly before his death.
Mrs. Hackney said they dealt with depression at a time “that was still in the age when people who had mental illnesses kept it away from everybody.” She recalled a lunch party at the Styrons’ house when she and others urged Mr. Styron, Mr. Buchwald, and Mr. Wallace to speak publicly about their battles. “‘Everybody knows what wonderful people you are and what you’ve done,” she recalled the friends saying to the three men. “‘If you are willing to talk about it, it would change everything.’”
All three went on to speak publicly about mental illness.
“This is a pain that afflicts a lot of people,” Mr. Styron told the Gazette in a 2001 interview following the publication of his memoir about depression, Darkness Visible. “It’s universal and if I could describe it in this way and people could relate to it, it meant they weren’t alone; and the second thing — almost as important or more important — is stressing the truth that people can get well, and that it’s not by any means fatal.”
And now the Blues Brothers fund will continue to do their work. “I just adored all three of them,” Mrs. Hackney said. “So the question was, how do we celebrate their life on the Island, and what they’ve done?”
The fund is meant to do both by raising money to continue the mission of Community Services, which Mrs. Hackney said is critical, with mental illness affecting summer residents and winter people alike.
A kick-off party and celebration of the Blues Brothers fund is scheduled for August 15. “We decided we were just going to have a great celebration of their life, talk about what they did, and also decided to implore everybody to give money,” Mrs. Hackney said.
The invitation-only fundraising event, a celebration of their lives, will be held on Mrs. Hackney’s lawn.
“They all traveled separately and together and they all had their first major crash in the same year,” Rose Styron told the Gazette earlier this summer, recalling that they decided to be buried near each other so as to “go on talking together forever underground.”
An invitation to the celebration features a snapshot of the three men on a rainy day, their arms linked: Mr. Wallace in a yellow slicker and rain hat, Mr. Buchwald, bespectacled and smiling in the middle, and Mr. Styron in a red-hooded raincoat. The picture is captioned “Three Depressed Men.”
“Because they were all best friends, we thought it would be a great way to honor them,” said Tamara Buchwald, Mr. Buchwald’s daughter in law, praising their decision to speak about mental illness in an era that “wasn’t comfortable discussing how it can destroy lives.”
So beyond a memorial, the Blues Brothers fund will “raise awareness about mental illness. Our intent is to do that,” Mrs. Buchwald said, saying she hoped the fundraiser might become an annual event.