NANTUCKET - She's earned a lot of nicknames over the years, among them Mother Trucker and the Queen of Nantucket, but beyond all the monikers she is also the epitome of a tireless soldier - unconditionally loved at home, often spurned and misunderstood abroad.
But don't call Grace Grossman a broad, unless you'd like to get decked by the crowd at the Downyflake, the Nantucket diner where she has breakfast every morning with the island carpenters and masons.
In fact on Tuesday morning this week, decking was very much on the mind of Eddie Conrad, a local builder who had attended the November meeting of the Steamship Authority on Nantucket. It was a rough and tumble affair, and two months later the people of Nantucket are still smarting over the poor treatment of their boat line governor by her fellow board members.
"I was surprised at the way they treated her, I was so upset that I could have decked somebody," Mr. Conrad declared.
"We're behind you, Grace - one hundred per cent," chimed in Ray St. Peter, another builder.
The Queen deflected the praise.
"It's not about me. It's about the people of Nantucket," she said firmly.
On this morning Mrs. Grossman had abandoned her usual seat at the Downyflake for a breakfast table and a newspaper interview at the Jared Coffin House. No matter, a small delegation from the Downyflake ventured downtown to find her.
"Where were you this morning?" Mr. St. Peter demanded.
"Who's that woman I saw you talking to a few minutes ago?" Mrs. Grossman shot back.
On Wednesday night this week the Nantucket selectmen voted unanimously to appoint the crusading Nantucket boat line governor - who turns 80 next week - to a third three-year term.
She first came to the post six and a half years ago when she stepped in to fill the unexpired term of her late husband, Bernard Grossman. Mr. Grossman, the Nantucket boat line governor for more than 20 years, died of cancer in 1996.
Looking back, Mrs. Grossman admitted this week that when she first came onto the board, the learning curve was a little overwhelming.
"I knew from nothing," she said simply.
Six years later, having served on the boat line board through one of the most tumultuous periods in its 40-plus-year history, Grace Grossman knows from something.
Her years have seen changes in membership and even in the structure of the board itself, which was expanded from three to five members last year after a prolonged campaign by New Bedford city politicians.
The two Islands retained control of the board through a weighted vote, but even the traditional Island axis has seen some serious erosion and more often than not in the last year Mrs. Grossman has been the odd man - make that the odd broad - out.
It all peaked at the November meeting on Nantucket when a crowd of 100 island residents - including leaders from every business association on the island - turned out to protest an advertising initiative with J. Crew that had been launched by SSA senior managers to coincide with the popular Christmas Stroll weekend. No one on Nantucket had been consulted about the plan to commercialize a quaint local event by handing out J. Crew catalogues - and Nantucketers were up in arms.
The protest fell on deaf ears, and when Mrs. Grossman made a motion to jettison the plan, she could not even muster a second from her fellow board members for the sake of discussion.
The J. Crew plan was later abandoned, but the damage was done.
"Until a few years ago we were family - disagreeing at times, but respecting one another. But times and representatives have changed and it's not like that anymore," she said this week.
"You're always bright-eyed and bushy tailed and you think you can make a difference, and that's the way I began and I care about both Islands - I really do - but I think outside interests have prevailed and they were stronger than we were," she said, adding:
"It changed the mission from being the lifeline to the Islands to being some kind of transportation agency for southeastern Massachusetts.
"But I go back to my main theme - it's really not that complicated, although I think we make it that way. We need to reduce costs, pay attention to the deferred maintenance problem and stick with our mission, which is to provide dependable ferry service to the year-round residents of both Islands. We don't need to get into all these other cockamamie ideas. I think we have lost our connection with the people and what they need and want."
Her Nantucket defenders are staunch.
"She does the best she can do - she represents Nantucket," Mr. St. Peter said.
"We want her, we want her, we need her," said Johanna (Hanneke) Campbell, who works at the Nantucket boat line terminal.
"Grace has put up with a lot and she is a lone ranger at the Steamship Authority, but she's not a lone ranger on Nantucket," said Flint Ranney, who is the Nantucket member of the boat line port council.
Mr. Ranney said the November meeting is still reverberating on Nantucket.
"It was gasoline on the fire and it really colored things for people here. Because let me be clear: Grace has the support of 99.8 per cent of Nantucket," he said.
"I'm not doing a very good job - we are outvoted at every turn," she mused.
Others had a different view.
"Grace Grossman is a passionate advocate for the interests of the people of Nantucket - especially and including the little people who can't afford ferry fees," said Ronald H. Rappaport, the former Vineyard boat line governor who served alongside Mrs. Grossman for five years.
"She does her job without looking for glory or power, but she does it to help her community." Mr. Rappaport added.
"I think that in a very real sense Grace Grossman is Nantucket, and for me it's inconceivable to think of the Steamship Authority board without Grace Grossman on it - because when you're dealing with Grace, you may not always agree with her point of view, but it is Nantucket's point of view and the reality is that is what you have to work with," said Ms. Roessel.
She did not deny that there is a growing divide between the two Islands.
"There is a very real tension between the two Islands on the one hand and the mainland on the other - and there is also a very real tension between the Island of Martha's Vineyard and the island of Nantucket in that their situations and their needs and their contributions are not identical," Ms. Roessel said. "In both cases you have an active dynamic, and I think the trick is to make sure that these two competing dynamics don't get out of balance with each other."
With all the headaches, why ask for another term?
Mrs. Grossman's answer is unadorned.
"I said I would like to finish what I started, and I didn't go into any detail because I think we have forgotten what we're all about. It's a difficult task. And it's not about me - I want that to be absolutely clear. It's about the Nantucket people. I represent what the Nantucket people want. I also have to be responsible financially. The satisfaction I find is in representing the island people. Nothing more."