President Obama and his wife Michelle will leave the Vineyard tonight, two days ahead of schedule, to attend the funeral of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy in Boston.
Although the funeral mass, at which Mr. Obama will deliver a eulogy for his friend, mentor and ally, is on Saturday, the first couple will fly out the previous evening because of concerns about approaching bad weather.
Tropical Storm Danny is forecasted to affect the Island on Saturday.
White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton told yesterday’s media briefing the Obamas would come back “as weather permits” after Senator Kennedy’s funeral, and then head back to Washington on Sunday evening.
The Obamas’ two daughters, Malia and Sasha, will remain on the Vineyard.
Mr. Burton said the President had already begun work writing his eulogy for Senator Kennedy.
“I don’t have any preview of what the President is going to say on Saturday,” Mr. Burton said, “but it is something that he obviously takes very seriously. He’s been working on it. He’s got a great team of speechwriters, but this is going to be a very personal statement.”
The Obamas arrived on the Island on Sunday afternoon, intent on having a low-key and private vacation week, Mr. Burton having already assured the large traveling media contingent: “Nobody’s looking to make any news.”
American Presidents, however, are never really on vacation and the Obamas got less than 24 hours of the quiet life they came for before events intervened.
On Monday, in the face of revelations about a new investigation of CIA abuses of terrorist suspects, there was the announcement of a new interrogation unit for high value terrorists, to be led by the FBI, not the CIA.
On Tuesday, in response to continuing economic concerns, Mr. Obama appeared in the temporary media room at the Oak Bluffs School with Ben Bernanke to announce Mr. Bernanke’s reappointment to another four-year term as Chairman of the Federal Reserve.
Then at 2 a.m. on Wednesday morning, the President was awakened to be told of the death of Senator Kennedy, the wiliest and most accomplished of Democrat legislators and longtime champion of health care reform.
Later Mr. Obama made a statement lionizing Senator Kennedy as a driving force behind “virtually every major piece of legislation to advance the civil rights, health and economic well-being of the American people” over the past 40 years.
“I valued his wise counsel in the Senate, where, regardless of the swirl of events, he always had time for a new colleague. I cherished his confidence and momentous support in my race for the Presidency. And even as he waged a valiant struggle with a mortal illness, I’ve profited as President from his encouragement and wisdom.
“An important chapter in our history has come to an end. Our country has lost a great leader, who picked up the torch of his fallen brothers and became the greatest United States Senator of our time,” Mr. Obama said.
There was no doubt Senator Kennedy’s death cast a shadow over the first family’s vacation.
At yesterday’s media briefing, Mr. Burton conceded as much, and also admitted the prediction of no news had been “wishful thinking,” and that Mr. Obama could use “a break from his vacation.”
Nonetheless the Obamas did manage to fit in a reasonable amount of rest and recreation, despite the exigencies of the Presidency.
Mr. Obama played 18 holes of golf at Farm Neck on Monday afternoon, another nine holes on Tuesday morning at Mink Meadows, and was playing another round of 18 yesterday at the Vineyard Golf Club.
Each time, the media were excluded, but the President did interact with some locals.
“I hope I didn’t mess anyone’s day up,” he said, according to Ronnie Lytle, who spoke to Mr. Obama, and later to reporters at Mink Meadows.
In fact, she was unable to get a round because the Presidential party had taken all the golf carts — she had a knee replacement and could not walk the course.
“You did,” she reported telling him. “But I don’t care.”
And that was the general sentiment around the Island. There was no denying the inconvenience caused by the tight security around the President whenever he went out, but people mostly took it well.
Crowds greeted them warmly whenever they appeared in public.
Tuesday evening they visited the Oak Bluffs home of the Obamas’ longtime friend and advisor, Valerie Jarret, for cocktails, then went on to dine in Oak Bluffs at the Sweet Life restaurant on Circuit avenue. Mr. Obama had a steak and rib dinner and pronounced it “really good.”
Other diners with reservations and identification were allowed to stay. Hundreds of people gathered outside in the hope of a glimpse of Mr. and Mrs. Obama, creating big traffic problems.
But when the party left to go home, onlookers bade them goodnight with shouts of “We love you” and “Thank you for everything.”
It was a similar scene the next day, when, after a morning visit to a private South Shore beach, the Obama family turned up for a bit of fried food at Nancy’s, on the Oak Bluffs harbor: traffic chaos, happy people.
(For the record, they bought nine orders of medium fried shrimp, two of fried calamari, two cole slaws, six medium fries, one order of clam strips, and two fried scallops. Mr. Obama put a couple of bills in the tip jar from his money clip.)
It was perhaps as close to a typical family holiday as people in their position could achieve. There were no big organized events, and a lot of family activities. Yesterday the motorcade set out from Blue Heron Farm with bicycles aboard, and stopped to ride at Lobsterville Beach, as delighted locals took pictures. Reportedly, Mr. Obama did not wear a helmet.
Then it was off to Aquinnah for a look at the cliffs and lighthouse. Lighthouse keeper Richard Skidmore was off-Island, but his wife, Joan LeLacheur, showed them around.
“They’re so easy to be with,” she said later. “Friendly, curious, gracious.”
Ms. LeLacheur tried to get the President to sing, “because the resonance in the light room is so wonderful.” But he told her his singing made his wife cringe.
The children, however, could be heard from outside, testing the echo.
“I couldn’t even sing Three Blind Mice,” she said of her nerves. “It was a bit pitiful.”
She said she gave them a bit of history, talked up the museum, said a little bit about why the lighthouse is there, and it was all over too soon.
Not everyone on the Island was in the thrall of the Obamas, however.
Cindy Sheehan, the anti-war activist whose son died in Iraq, organized several actions in opposition to America’s continued engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan.
At one of them, a press conference at the media center at the Oak Bluffs School, Ms. Sheehan said she was there to remind people that while the Obamas were on vacation people were still dying.
“There’s no vacation from body bags,” she said. “And the families of dead soldiers will never be able to truly enjoy a vacation again.
“Just because he’s better than Bush doesn’t sell me, because practically everybody in the world is better than Bush.”
There were other political statements made on the Island this week, although somewhat less bluntly.
Thursday saw an open letter in the Martha’s Vineyard Times, signed by more than 100 Vineyard grandmothers, many of them famous names and big campaigners for Mr. Obama, imploring him not to abandon a public health insurance option.
And Greenpeace distributed mock newspapers conveying their message about the urgency of addressing climate change.
Speaking of climate, the weather could hardly have been better for the Obama vacation. Warm, mostly sunny, maybe a bit muggy. And it only rained at night.
No media were allowed in to see what the Obamas actually did at Blue Heron Farm, the 28-acre Chilmark estate that they rented for this vacation, but Mr. Burton reported the President worked out, played some tennis with his wife, a little basketball, made some inroads into his reading list and was able to “actually do a little relaxing.”
And their kids had managed to get out for ice cream and some time in the amusement arcade, as well as spending a lot of time just romping round the farm.
So, while it had not been quite the vacation they planned, Mr. Burton said, the Obamas loved the place and the people. They would be back.