Sometimes there is that one person who has vision and energy and steps forward to lead the way. And in the process, things get done.
Gray Bryan was just such a person, and when he died three weeks ago, the Vineyard lost a great friend. Gray Mac W. Bryan Jr. died on Dec. 29 at the age of 85. He was ahead of his time, at least when it came to water quality protection on the Vineyard.
His work on the Edgartown harbor and in the Edgartown Great Pond preceded the Massachusetts Estuaries project by many years. In the 1980s, Gray was president and founder of the Edgartown Harbor Association, formed with the specific mission of monitoring and preserving the water quality of Edgartown’s most precious resource, its harbor.
Preserving valuable waterfront resources was a topic for discussion, but Gray Bryan was the one who took charge by turning talk into action.
In the span of less than five years, he and his association raised some $350,000, much of which was spent on a detailed study of the harbor by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. It was a benchmark study, later expanded to include the Edgartown Great Pond. A movable floating laboratory was set up to collect data and monitor water quality. At the outset the idea was to put the best science to work to examine whether the harbor water quality was in decline. At the time there was rising evidence of bacterial contamination but little data, and Gray Bryan was concerned that government leaders needed hard information in order to enact policies and regulations for protection.
His approach was to get the science and let it point the political forces and the community in the right direction.
The harbor association brought about change. After three years of studies, overnight cruising boats were identified as a key source of pollution, so the town adopted strict regulations to cut down on the discharging of effluent in the harbor. Today that kind of environmental thinking may not seem so big. Back in 1990, it was front-row environmental activism.
Gray had a wonderful way of empowering people and moving things in a positive direction.
In a December 1989 interview with the Gazette about the work of the harbor association, he said: “The most important thing coming out of this is that there has been this fortunate marriage and meeting of the minds from a group of people who are willing to put up $350,000, get a hold of the scientific world and put it in touch with the political world . . . and put it all into simple language for the public . . . . All this information is giving the town a firm background to institute new rules and enforce old rules. When other towns see what Edgartown has done with the data supplied, you are going to see other harbors say, ‘Okay, we’re going to do what Edgartown has done.’ It takes leadership and what Edgartown and Woods Hole have done is show this marriage and lead.”
Gray Bryan was a huge part of that leadership. His contributions were significant.