When Dr. Russell S. Hoxsie receives the 2006 Creative Living Award tonight at the Grange Hall in West Tisbury, a relationship that began decades earlier will finally come full circle.
As it turns out, Dr. Hoxsie knew Ruth Redding, the woman who established the award 23 years ago.
"She was a patient of mine," he said with a laugh. "She was an interesting lady, and that kind of makes the connection for me to have known that person. But Gus Ben David, David McCullough and the other recipients - I'm in good company, very good company."
For the thousands of Vineyard patients to whom he paid house calls in the middle of the night for more than 40 years, the man with the deep voice and comforting smile is a well-deserving recipient. The Creative Living Award honors persons whose lives reflect the "luminous and creative spirit" that marked Ruth J. Bogan's versatility in areas from fine arts to cooking and gardening, as well as her encouragement of craftsmanship and ingenuity in others. The annual award was established in 1983 by Ms. Redding to honor and remember her friend, Ms. Bogan, and is given through the Permanent Endowment Fund of Martha's Vineyard. The ceremony begins tonight at 5 o'clock.To the good doctor himself, the award came as a complete shock.
"I was bowled over," he said last week from his home overlooking Menemsha Pond. "Ron Rappaport called me down to his office to tell me, which made me nervous to begin with, and said it's really a Creative Retirement Award, which I presume is a reference to the fact that I am no longer doing medicine and I am doing a little writing."
Indeed, along with his more than 50 years of service to the community, that writing - which includes more than three decades of poetry, scholarly articles, newspaper columns and, most recently, a book - has earned Dr. Hoxsie a place among some of the most recognizable and respected Island residents. And true to form, he is unfailingly modest about the whole thing.
"I don't know what the criteria was that I fit into to win the award," he said with a chuckle. "I can't seem to find it in their mission statement."
These days, Dr. Hoxsie is enjoying quieter times with his wife, Marianne, at their Chilmark home where they have lived since 1976. The couple moved to the Island in the mid-1950s so he could begin his general medical practice and quickly became a vital part of the community.
"Coming to the Vineyard was the ideal thing," he said. "I mean, I didn't know anything about the Vineyard, even having grown up around New Bedford. But I wanted to be in practice by myself and do a little bit of everything."
But while he loved the ocean and natural beauty afforded by the Island, he recalled that in those early days he also wondered if he had made a mistake.
"I remember I walked out on the street in the middle of September, the first morning I was here, to scout out Main street - and there was nobody on the street," he said. "People were just barely beginning to open one or two of the stores, somebody was sweeping the sidewalk and I thought, ‘Whoa, I'm not going to be able to make a living down here.'"
His general practice, however, began to blossom, and eventually he became one of the Vineyard's most respected doctors as well as a pioneer in the early study and diagnosis of Lyme disease. Looking back now, he grins to think of the early years, when house calls were the rule and hospital visits were the exception.
"Oh, I hated getting up in the middle of the night," he said with a laugh. "Our oldest daughter, Debbie, remembers living up above the garage in our Vineyard Haven house, and waking up at one or two - hearing the car start up and the garage doors bang. It was demanding work and I think the family to some extent probably suffered. Marianne was a tough one, though. She said, ‘You start getting home here in time for supper.' It's the only time we sat down together as a family. And that was a salvation for me."
Now he has made a name for himself as a writer. Along with his articles and columns, Dr. Hoxsie turned his collection of essays into a book titled Let's Walk, Lilly, which was published in November 2004.
"I've always written stuff," he said. "I began writing poetry back in the seventies, and I got interested in the tick problems and wrote quite a few articles talking about Lyme disease and tularemia, so I had some experience with that."
In the late 1990s he started writing a series of articles about walking on the Vineyard for the Martha's Vineyard Times. When an illness forced Dr. Hoxsie to cut short his walks, he began writing another column called Off North Road, a collection of memoirs and musings about his life.
"I write about personal things, whatever is on my mind," he said. "Sometimes current events or history creeps into it, such as a recent column about the 1938 hurricane. The one I am thinking of now is about skunks, which has become a problem around the house. I go to a poetry group every few weeks and I self-published a little book last year, and I would really like to continue that. I have the most fun with that. It's just myself alone with myself, trying to be creative."
As a poet, Dr. Hoxsie, a former member of the Island Community Chorus, was recently honored when the chorus performed Road Sense, a poem he had written in 2002. The poem, which was inspired by journeys along Middle Road in Chilmark and Beach Road in Edgartown, was set to music by Phillip Dieterich, also a former member of the chorus.
It is this kind of examination of the simple things in life and in particular on the Vineyard that gives his work an intimacy and familiarity that resonates with readers - and is something Dr. Hoxsie looks forward to continuing.
"A lot of good things have happened to me, but I'm still pondering why they picked me out for this prize," he said.