The privilege of spending the whole summer in Oak Bluffs is rare and virtually unthinkable in terms of black history, despite many of us having been so fortunate.
Back in the mid-1950s our folks made it abundantly clear that the recreation was prepayment for high expectation. Even so, it never occurred to Phil Reed and me when we were throwing each other off the raft at the Inkwell or playing pranks on the party line that connected our homes (his on Pennacook and mine on Pequot) that he would have a role in black history.
Phil spent most of his 50-plus summers on the porch or playing tennis on “The Vineyard,” as he liked to. Not many here knew him as city councilman Philip H. Reed of District 8 of Manhattan. But his constituents knew him as the first openly gay, HIV-positive black politician who successfully legislated for open space parks and the banning of racial and religious profiling in the city, and the use of cell phones in places of public performances. Phil was born on Feb. 21, 1949 to a black dad and white mom, much like his political hero. So he was delighted to see Barack H. Obama elected president two days before dying on Nov. 6, 2008. I write this sitting in his city council chair that his twin sister Ellie gave me.
We also weren’t thinking about black history when Al Goldson and Buster Giordano used to quibble over Buster’s Buick Wildcat or Al’s Pontiac GTO being the faster car.
Al — better known as Dr. Alfred L. Goldson, M.D., FACR, former professor and chairman of the department of radiation oncology at Howard University Hospital — was married on the Island to Phil Reed’s neighbor, Amy Robertson Goldson, another of my best friends. He died on Feb. 7, 2004, nine years ago yesterday. Dr. Goldson is credited as being the U.S. pioneer of electron beam intraoperative radiotherapy — the therapy that continues to save and extend lives. He was a caring and compassionate physician with a bedside manner that endeared him to many cancer patients and families (including mine). In 1994 President Clinton appointed Dr. Goldson to the National Cancer Advisory Board.
Another summer friend I met at Al’s house on Newton avenue was a cute girl named Bebe who lived at Sengekontacket. A while later we shared a table at a dinner party with her and her husband, Ellis. Once we found out they were from Los Angeles, we convinced them to join us for a Vineyard experience: South Beach at midnight. They thought we were crazy but went anyway. A couple of hours and a bottle of wine later, they saw their first shooting stars. She wrote a charming magazine article, Relaxing on The Vineyard, that included that story.
She was Bebe Moore Campbell, the author of three New York Times best-sellers, the Los Angeles Times “Best Book of 2001,” and winner of the NAACP Image Award for Literature. As a journalist, Campbell wrote articles for The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, Essence, Ebony and Black Enterprise. She was a regular commentator for Morning Edition on National Public Radio. Her essays, articles and excerpts appear in many anthologies. In addition to fiction, her work included her interest in mental health, like her last book, 72 Hour Hold. She was a member of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. Born on February 18, 1950, Bebe Moore Campbell died on Nov. 27, 2006. A favorite expression she had was “a setback is just a setup for a comeback,” perhaps a pointed comment on the notion of the black history to which she contributed. I still remember her and miss that cute girl Bebe.
Years ago Al introduced me to his neighbor, Captain Bob Weiss of Summer’s Lease. We all fished together for years before Bob’s death this past Dec. 3. Married for 54 years to Bob, Sylvia L. Weiss died Jan. 28 — poignant proof she couldn’t live without him. Rest in peace, friends, and thanks for the memories.
Happy 85th anniversary to Phillips Hardware, which always has that thing you’re looking for in the middle of a project.
There’s just 57 days until the Flying Horses opens — thanks for the reprieve, Punxsutawney Phil.
Keep your foot on a rock.