Ernest (Ernie) Boch, a successful car dealer who made his year-round home on the Island, died Sunday morning at his house on the Edgartown harbor.
He was 77 years old and arguably the most famous car dealer in New England, owner of a string of dealerships in Norwood. He appeared in his own television commercials and invited customers to "come on down."
On the Vineyard, Mr. Boch was perhaps better known for the massive and sometimes controversial house he and his wife began building in 1981 on the Edgartown waterfront.
Set on 15 acres, the 15,000 square-foot house took five years to construct and, according to news accounts, contained 62 skylights, 17 heat zones, five miles of copper pipe and a wine cellar big enough for 1,102 bottles.
The pavement outside the mansion was all Italian cobblestone, reportedly the largest private installation in the U.S.
His sprawling front lawn became something of an Island landmark because of the llamas that grazed there. On Sunday, the lawn was also the site for an annual picnic for Camp Jabberwocky, a tradition that started 12 years ago.
Remarkably, the Boch family insisted that the party continue even in the wake of Mr. Boch's death just 45 minutes before campers were set to arrive.
"It was quite a moving thing for all of us," said Gillian Lamb-Butchman, director of the July session for Camp Jabberwocky.
The picnic lasted until 4 p.m.
The director said over those 12 years the picnic had become probably the favorite day of the campers' summer: "They could do anything. They jumped off the pier, jumped on the trampoline, and Ernie would often fire the cannons. He was always incredibly charming and would hang out and laugh with the campers, very much a part of the whole thing."
In addition to Camp Jabberwocky, Mr. Boch also supported Hospice of Martha's Vineyard. His generosity was prominent on the Cape, where he donated $2.6 million toward a performing arts center in Mashpee.
Mr. Boch's connection to the Island was not always an easy one, evidenced by years of tangling and legal disputes with both the towns of Edgartown and Tisbury.
In 1990, he sued Edgartown, challenging its ability to prevent him from renting two moorings in front of his home. He lost that lawsuit. Later in the decade, Edgartown spent $30,000 in legal fees, arguing over the value of the Boch compound and how much local tax he should be assessed.
In 1999, Edgartown selectmen complained about light pollution coming from the Boch house. Over in Tisbury, Ernie Boch's waterfront lot near Five Corners also became the subject of a court battle, this one lasting for years without any resolution.
"It's no secret there was a mixed reception for Ernie Boch on the Island, but to us, he was a very favored and revered friend," said Ms. Lamb-Butchman.
Mr. Boch not only owned car dealerships; he was also the distributor for Subarus in New England and had interests in several other businesses, including the Cape-based talk radio station, WXTK.
Visitation will be Thursday from noon to 9 p.m. at the Kraw-Kornack Funeral Home, 1248 Washington street, in Norwood.