As most on the Vineyard now have learned, this past Sunday we lost a prominent member of our community, Herb Putnam. I write today to share with the readers of this paper a brief note about my twenty-year friendship with Herb. I am certain that Vineyarders all over have many great stories to share about Herb and, as difficult it is to write at this time, I am truly happy to share the following. Candidly, it also is a means to express my grief for this terrible loss.
Herb and I were introduced in 1989 by a mutual acquaintance and Herb soon after expressed interest in joining Island Frozen Products, a business my father and I purchased just a year earlier. Within weeks of our introduction we became business partners in a venture with great promise and yet an equal amount of risk.
I was immediately struck by Herb’s deep roots in the Vineyard community. I moved here in 1988, just two days after graduating from college, and a year later knew just a handful of people. Conversely, Herb seemed to be friends with or at least know just about everyone in the community. He was the ideal balance to my father, who brought his deep business roots, and me, who brought youth and drive. Twenty years later, Island Food Products stands as a testament to the foundation that the formation of our partnership provided the business and the many great employees we had the honor to work with (and also call friends.)
Herb and I did not see eye to eye on every aspect of our business — such a notion is a virtual impossibility in the world of business. Yet, there was always mutual respect, trust, and friendship at the core of our relationship.
Not long after becoming business partners, Liz and I purchased the house two doors down from Herb. Now neighbors we enjoyed helping each other with landscaping projects and spent many Sundays cutting trees in the state forest. Undoubtedly, one of my most special memories of Herb is the bond he formed with our beloved lab, Snoopy. Snoopy came to Island Food Products every day, and no matter how busy our crazy business was, Herb always took the time to entertain him. Whether it be teaching Snoops to balance his toy lobster on his nose, or helping him learn to stand on his hind legs, Herb helped bring out the best in an amazingly important part of my family. I remember the day fifteen or so years ago when Snoopy looked out the window and saw Herb walking by on the road — in the blink of an eye Snoopy dove right through the screen and ran out to the road to meet up with his old friend. Smiles all around.
Busy lives prevented us from seeing each other as frequently as we would have liked in recent years. However, with reasonable and important frequency one of us would pick up the phone and call the other, or we’d meet for a few holes of golf. And, we’d just talk, about him, me, our families, or a multitude of other topics — whatever we felt like. That’s what friends are for . . .
We last spoke a few weeks ago, and although I would have done anything to help him, I could hear in his voice that he did not want to talk about himself. Instead, after apologizing for canceling a recent dinner date with Liz and Marsha, as if he needed to, he spent the next forty-five minutes talking about me and what was happening in my life. He wanted me to know how grateful he was for our personal and professional relationship, and how proud he was for what I’d done with my life. I tried as hard as I could to block out the notion that Herb was saying goodbye, however, retrospectively I now know that’s exactly what he was doing. How do I put in words what he took the time to do? For now I’ll just say: class act, great friend.
Fate decided not to allow Herb to remain a physical part of our community and we now try to move on with our lives. However, the countless members of our community who have been touched by Herb, many far more profoundly than me, can be confident that his presence and impact will remain forever. For that we can be grateful at this terrible time.
Rest in peace, Herb; we’ll miss you.
John A. Roberts 3rd lives in Oak Bluffs.