Edgartown's senior statesman Fred B. Morgan Jr. closed a chapter for the town Tuesday afternoon when the longtime selectman announced he will step down from his leadership post after nearly 31 years of public service.

"I've been thinking about it for some time. It's time for me to step down," Mr. Morgan said in the same straightforward and decisive manner in which he's handled Edgartown politics for three decades.

"I'd like to do a few things before I'm too old to travel," the eighty-one-year-old said with a hint of apology, even though his retirement comes more than a decade after most of his peers. Mr. Morgan's term does not expire until April 2004. With the timing of his resignation, an election for the remaining year of his term will be held during the annual town elections this spring.

Mr. Morgan's announcement came without fanfare - only a few warm smiles as fellow board members Arthur Smadbeck and Margaret Serpa and town administrator Peter O. Bettencourt thanked Mr. Morgan for steering Edgartown through the political and economic ebbs and flows since 1972.

"As hard as this is for me, Ted, you've been serving your fellow man since you began jumping out of airplanes behind enemy lines since World War II," Mr. Smadbeck said. "There is not any other person more deserving of a little time in the sunshine."

A stack of yellowing Gazette clips tracking the activities of the Edgartown board of selectmen during Mr. Morgan's tenure climbs well beyond a foot in height. In nearly 31 years, Mr. Morgan sat through over 1,500 regular selectmen's meetings, joined dozens of additional subcommittees and special advisory groups and officiated over three dozen town meetings. The Edgartown native's first race for selectman in 1972 unseated a two-term incumbent and pulled out a record 77 per cent of registered voters to the polls. He would campaign for a selectman's seat 10 times over the next 30 years, none of the races posing a real threat to the respected public official.

"You set a high example for those of us who feel the way about this town [that you do.] You've demonstrated it will be difficult to follow," said selectwoman Margaret Serpa to Mr. Morgan after his announcement during Tuesday's regular meeting.

Mr. Morgan deflected the praise.

"I'm happy to go out on a positive note. I'm proud of this town and proud to have served it for nearly 31 years," he said, commending the work of town staff and volunteers.

Few details in town escaped the board of selectmen's attention in the last three decades. Mr. Morgan handled mundane matters - from taxi registration to problems with tour buses on Main street, from a rising skunk population to harbor congestion - with attentiveness and care. The retired air force colonel listened to issues before the board just long enough to distill the matters and act.

While many Edgartown residents, including fellow board members, disagreed at times with Mr. Morgan's stance, no one questioned the stateman's loyalty to Edgartown and its residents.

"My experience with you is that everything you've done has been for this town and the people of this town," said Mr. Bettencourt, who has served as town administrator during Mr. Morgan's entire tenure and during his three years on the zoning board of appeals.

From the taking of South Beach and Katama Airfield and the battles surrounding Herring Creek Farm and an attack on three-acre zoning, Mr. Morgan proved unwilling to back down from measures he believed protected the character of the community and the livelihood of its people.

"Ted's a giant on the political landscape here. He's been a passionate advocate for the Island, and especially for Edgartown, tirelessly for all these years," said Ronald H. Rappaport, town counsel for Edgartown since 1986.

While Edgartown, much to the credit of long-term employees and officials like Mr. Morgan, is known to be a well-oiled machine, the town faced its share of battles through the last 30 years, a period marked by unprecedented growth and aggressive development. Through building moratoriums and caps, the inception of zoning in most neighborhoods of Edgartown and the conservation of hundreds of acres of land, Mr. Morgan stood at the front lines of each and every struggle.

Born a few blocks from Main street in September 1921, Mr. Morgan joined the U.S. Army at the age of 19 to serve as a medic and paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division. Jumping from military planes 25 times onto European soil during World War II, Mr. Morgan earned both a Bronze Star and the Purple Heart for his courageous service. He endured a harrowing 33 days of combat in France following a jump into enemy territory during the initial phase of the Normandy invasion in 1944.

In 1949, Mr. Morgan joined the U.S. Air Force, where he spent the next two decades as an administrator of military hospitals across the country. He achieved the rank of lieutenant colonel upon his retirement.

Mr. Morgan, his wife, Florence, and their six children returned to the Island in the late 1960s, when he assumed the post of administrator at Martha's Vineyard Hospital. While his role as professional head of the hospital lasted only a few years, he rejoined the hospital leadership in the late 1990s as a member of the board of trustees. He was chairman of the hospital trustees when he resigned from the board early this year.

While Mr. Morgan is stepping down from his post as selectman, he will not fully walk away from town politics. He promises to see the new Edgartown school building to fruition as chairman of the school building committee and he will help with an affordable rental housing project on town land near Pennywise Path. He said he also remains committed to town beautification projects.

Mr. Morgan also will retain his status as grand marshal in the traditional Fourth of July parade in Edgartown.

As of Dec. 31, 2002, Mr. Morgan will be free on Tuesdays at 4 o'clock.

"Am I going to miss it? Yes, I am. But it's just my time," Mr. Morgan said.