It was never part of the official Roberts Rules of Order, but anyone who attended an annual or special town meeting in Aquinnah in the past three and a half decades knew about the Delaney Rule.
That was longtime town moderator Walter Delaney’s personal method for keeping order at town meetings; the rule involved taking comments one row at a time. Sometimes if there was a hot topic to be debated (which was often in tiny Aquinnah), Walter would go up and down the rows more than once, allowing people to have their say two or three times. The Delaney Rule was highly democratic although not highly efficient and could be cause for quiet grumbling due to the fact that it caused meetings to last longer than necessary, say on a night when the Red Sox or Bruins were playing and half the room wanted to be home for the end of the game.
But nobody ever grumbled much because Walter had his rules and they weren’t going to change. And people respected that.
Walter’s Vineyard story was familiar but set in an earlier era — he and his wife Nancy came to the Island on their honeymoon in the 1950s, fell in love with Gay Head and a few years later bought a cottage there. Through the 1960s, the Delaneys spent winters in Woburn and summers in Gay Head. Sometime in the 1970s, Walter was asked to accept a nomination on the town meeting floor to serve out an unexpired term as moderator. He obliged, ran for re-election the next year and was re-elected for thirty-four more years after that.
He had many other leadership roles in town, including serving as fire chief for seventeen years and selectman for nine years. He relished all of these roles, not out of any egotism but rather out of a deeply felt sense of duty toward his town. He was one of those enduring, quiet small-town leaders that seem to be disappearing on the Vineyard.
Walter was feted more than once on the Island; the last time was this summer when he moved off the Vineyard to live on the mainland and be near his children. On the day he left the Island, a surprise contingent of friends and town officials, including police and volunteer firefighters, turned out to bid him farewell. Last week when Walter died at the age of eighty-four, an email was circulated among all the fire chiefs in the commonwealth in that special brotherhood where a chief is never forgotten.
The Delaney Rule has been consigned to history, and that’s probably not a bad thing. But Walter Delaney will long be remembered for his dedication to the town perched on the westernmost edge of the Vineyard that he called home for nearly half a century.