Louise Aldrich Bugbee: 1914-2008

She used to grouse about big shots in the mainland press, about those fancy reporters who come to the Vineyard in season to hound the rich and famous, to write about celebrities in residence, to portray her beloved Island as nothing more than a playground for idle ne’er-do-wells. It was all, in her view, a monstrous distortion of Island life. She complained about such press accounts and said they were unfair to everyone, unfair to the privileged and to the less fortunate, unfair to the well-known and to obscure folk, those wonderful, ordinary citizens who form the backbone of her special Island community.

They say Louise Aldrich Bugbee passed away quietly last week at the Florida home of her son, Ed. She was 94, born in 1914, and for more than three decades of her life on the Vineyard she wrote a column in the Gazette. Her running commentary on Island life — old-fashioned essays with a modern-day bite — soon attracted a broad and loyal following. But we don’t quite believe those accounts from Florida.

For we know better about Louise, this dear friend of the Vineyard and our longtime colleague. A quiet passing, they said. Well, Louise never did anything quietly or without comment, often blunt but always with a twinkle of humor and a wry sense of the ironic. She had thoughts and words for just about everything on the Vineyard, and that covered not only the state of her own life but the social conditions affecting the lives of friends and strangers around her.

She fought pretense in life and wasted little time letting people know her feelings. Perhaps on this occasion, had there been an extra moment for a final farewell column, Louise Aldrich Bugbee might have started at her typewriter with these words: “It is time.”

Every newspaper in the country needs a Louise Bugbee. She was the Gazette’s champion of the everyday citizen of the Vineyard, of all those people so often overlooked, the people who fix your plumbing, who sweep the hall after the crowds have left, who open the bakery in the dark, early morning hours. And always she helped people down on their luck, taking in human strays as she would wayward pets off the street. She loved her cats, indeed all animals, and sat by the hour watching hundreds of birds at her many feeders, especially the cardinals.

The voice and humanity of Louise Aldrich Bugbee will be missed. Visitors to the Island often ask about the special spirit of the Vineyard. She captured that spirit because she understood Island people and the simple things so essential to the quality of everyday Vineyard life.

Listen to the melody of Louise Bugbee carried in the message of an early Gazette column more than forty years ago: “The Vineyard in brown or white is as fine as the Vineyard in green. The ocean was never a brighter blue than on that chilly February Sunday. On the road near a beach that is crowded with cars in the summer, a solitary hen pheasant claimed the right of way.”