Atty. Ronald H. Rappaport saluted Island volunteers as the backbone of this community and an indispensable force that makes the Vineyard the special place it is. Mr. Rappaport offered his remarks after receiving the Spirit of the Vineyard Volunteer Award from Hospice of Martha’s Vineyard Inc. 
The Friday breakfast gathering at the Hebrew Center in Vineyard Haven drew a large crowd of friends and family from across the community.
Mr. Rappaport, 51, familiar to so many as an Island attorney, town counsel to five towns and the Steamship Authority governor for seven and a half years, sat quietly with his family and friends as public officials and private citizens took turns at the podium to honor Mr. Rappaport for his service to the community.
Emily Bramhall of Chilmark, a member of the Hospice board of directors, introduced the program and spoke of the value of the community service award, now in its third year. “It is a thanks to all those on the Island who help each other,” she said. The award recognizes the outstanding contributions of those who work selflessly on the community’s behalf through a variety of organizations.
“Ron Rappaport is the third recipient to this annual award, following the footsteps but certainly not in the shadows of Jack Ware and Estelle Suprenant. He embodies a true public spirit-minded volunteer. His care and concern for the people of Martha’s Vineyard is shown in a myriad of ways,” Ms. Bramhall said.
Praise came from as far away as another island, in the form of a letter from Grace Grossman, Steamship Authority governor from Nantucket.
Tribute speeches came from the 1998 recipient, Jack Ware, a former selectman in Tisbury and former chairman of the Permanent Endowment Fund for Martha’s Vineyard. State Rep. Eric Turkington spoke, as did county manager Carol Borer. Richard Reston, editor and publisher of the Vineyard Gazette, was joined by the newspaper’s senior writer, Julie Wells. They all brought perspective to the choice of Mr. Rappaport as this year’s award recipient.
Mr. Ware said he had worked with Mr. Rappaport for 10 years on the Permanent Endowment Fund and found him to be quiet and decisive. “Ron played a critical volunteer role. He could give a clear statement on what to do and why,” Mr. Ware said. “Ron is unceasingly dedicated to the Vineyard to keep the lifeline to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket and not New Bedford.”
On his role as Steamship Authority governor, Mr. Rappaport in his responding remarks said: “I never wanted this to be my identity. 
“Freight service to New Bedford is not about whether it is a six-month or an eight-month, or a one or two-year program. It is about control. This is about who is going to decide how many cars there will be, when they will run and whether there will be a late night boat for the hockey team. We are looking at this as a lifeline.”
Representative Turkington told the audience: “This has been an amazing past couple of years, and Ron has taken the brunt of it. I know how many times he has talked to me; I can only imagine the hours he has spent talking to the Island community. I know the sleepless nights I have had over the issue; I can only imagine the sleepless nights that Ron has had over this issue. I know this has hurt his home life, I know it has hurt his law practice, but he has stood strong for what he felt was right for Martha’s Vineyard and it gives me great pleasure to salute him and thank him.” Mr. Turkington also honored Mr. Rappaport with an official proclamation from the House of Representatives.
Mrs. Borer reminded the audience that the Steamship Authority member from Martha’s Vineyard is a position appointed by the county commissioners. “I believe you are the Vineyard’s lifeline,” she said.
County commissioner Robert Sawyer presented Mr. Rappaport with a county commissioner award: “You epitomize the purpose of our outstanding service award,” he said.
Mr. Reston said: “The truth is that he cares so deeply about his community that there is no issues of importance that he doesn’t get involved in and that he doesn’t agonize over. He is thoughtful about the daily concerns in this community and he finds out what other people are thinking. He is always there with sound and sensible guidance.”
Ms. Wells said: “He fights the fight, large and small.” She outlined a list of legal battles ranging from rescuing South Beach from developers to the more recent assaults from New Bedford. “Three years ago he single-handedly and with virtually no recognition put together an emergency board of trustees that saved the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital from collapse.”
There were also moments of levity. Bill Graham, longtime friend from West Tisbury and Brentwood, Calif., teased his colleague. Mr. Graham was chairman of the emergency hospital board of trustees while the medical facility struggled to survive through a period of bankruptcy. “I am here representing the unsung heroes, the people who pay their full legal fees to Ron Rappaport,” Mr. Graham said. He speculated that if Mr. Rappaport were to charge the towns his full legal fees, the tax rate would soar in at least five of the Island towns.
Mr. Graham said that in the city there are not the lawyers of the caliber of Mr. Rappaport, those who “spend half of their time making life better for all of us. He is an exception.”
When his time came to speak, Mr. Rappaport praised the Island community and its volunteer ethic. “We are a community of volunteers. We have to take care of ourselves,” he said. He spoke of the many volunteers in public service, in town government, in public safety, fire and emergency work, of the many volunteers involved at Community Services and the hospital, and in the struggle to find affordable housing. “The members of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission meet weekly on Thursday nights,” he said. “That is an important commitment.
“Our environmental organizations, from Sheriff’s Meadow to the Vineyard Conservation Society, they are all volunteers,” Mr. Rappaport said.
He praised those who rise to battle on controversial issues. “Those who stand to fight, I’ve seen this time after time, they take a position and stand by it. There is a downside to public service; it is that you can only hold the banner so long,” Mr. Rappaport said, turning to look at Mr. Ware. “Jack Ware has stepped aside from his work with the endowment fund. Others have to step up to these leadership positions.”
Mr. Rappaport concluded: “I thank Hospice and everyone who spoke, and especially all the volunteers on this Island who have made this a very special place.”
The audience applauded.
Anna Mae Cecilio of Vineyard Haven watched as people left the center and then offer her thoughts: “Ron received the volunteer award, but he gave it right back to the community. That was very nice of him.”