Walter Cronkite: 1916-2009

Just about everything that can be said about Walter Cronkite since his death last Friday at age ninety-two has been said. Tributes to the life and career of the iconic CBS news anchorman have come from across the nation and from overseas. He defined the role of the television anchor for all who have followed him and he formed a bond of trust with his American audience that is not likely to be matched again by anyone in the broadcast business. Walter Cronkite simply became a nightly friend in the living rooms of millions of Americans and that friendship between the anchorman and his listeners lasted for nearly two decades and through many of the nation’s historic news events of the last century.

Most of the praise for Walter Cronkite in recent days is tied to his news reporting of so many of the great triumphs, tragedies and crises that in almost every case deeply influenced the rhythms of Amercian life from 1962 to 1981 — from the moon landing to the Viet Nam War, from the assassination of President Kennedy to the civil rights movement that sought to improve the lives of minorities in this country. Certainly the outpouring of adulation for Mr. Cronkite is well deserved, much of it based on his ability to gather and present the news with integrity, humility and the power of understatement.

We will not try here to comment further on the celebrity of Walter Cronkite. That is best left to others who already have traced the Cronkite life and career in exhaustive detail since his death in New York Friday. But there is a quieter side of Mr. Cronkite’s life that often goes without mention. It is a side that Islanders know and care about because Walter Cronkite belonged not only to the world in his news gathering role but also to the Vineyard as a citizen and seasonal resident of this community for nearly 40 years.

The fame of Mr. Cronkite may have come mainly from his many highly public accomplishments in the global world of television journalism but his life on the Island was not without achievements of considerable importance to the people of Martha’s Vineyard, to friends and strangers alike. His Island residence for most of his time on the Vineyard was Green Hollow in Edgartown, a grand old Dutch colonial home that overlooked the harbor and was tucked away down a long hidden drive off the road to the Katama Plains.

We will remember Walter Cronkite for his generosity during his time on the Vineyard. Over the years he devoted much time and money to improve the quality of Island life in this seasonal home he loved and continued to visit almost until death. He did not have to give so generously of his time but he did so because he cared about this place, about this land in the sea where he came to sail and to escape the pressures of an outside world that chased him in intrusive ways Vineyarders did not.

The full list of his philanthropic efforts is too long to mention here. But his contributions of time and name are to be found in support of Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, the Vineyard hospital, conservation initiatives undertaken by the Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation, the fight to save the Menemsha Coast Guard Station, Sail Martha’s Vineyard and the drive to construct an animal shelter in Edgartown.

Sometimes in the political and even social discourse here we forget the important role seasonal residents play in the everyday lives of year-round Islanders. The Island’s future and the health and welfare of its citizenry depend on critical community institutions such as Community Services and the hospital. And the extensive support of the seasonal resident community and all our good neighbors from abroad deserve our thanks for the time and effort they give to make this a better place.

Walter Cronkite was a symbol of the generosity of our seasonal friends. The Island will miss his care and commitment to this home away from the rush of great news events that for so long dominated his life whenever he left Martha’s Vineyard.