National newspapers last week carried the obituaries of three notable civil servants: conservationist and former U.S. Secretary of the Interior Stewart L. Udall; Liz Carpenter, press secretary to Lady Bird Johnson during her White House years, and former Massachusetts State Senator and former Bristol (now Cape and Islands) district attorney Edmund Dinis. All three will be remembered here for their Island connections.
Most keenly remembered, perhaps, is Mr. Dinis, who died March 14 in Dartmouth, for it was he who launched the inquest in 1969 into the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s actions after his car went off the bridge into Pocha Pond on Chappaquiddick, resulting in the death of Mary Jo Kopechne. As the case began, Mr. Dinis pushed hard against the senator, but as the inquest progressed, he pushed less fiercely, according to then grand jury foreman Leslie H. Leland of West Tisbury. Mr. Leland wonders today if Mr. Dinis came to feel it was politically inadvisable to be against a Kennedy. Many others, in the political sphere, have also speculated that it was Mr. Dinis’s handling of the investigation, which pleased no one, that led to his being voted out of office in 1970 and ended his political career.
It was for the dedication of the Gay Head Cliffs as a registered National Historic Monument in 1966 that Mr. Udall, who died Saturday, came to the Vineyard. He and his wife stayed at Menemsha at the home of environmentalist writer and staunch defender of the Island’s natural beauty, the late Nan Simon. And the secretary of the interior expressed his own amazement at the Vineyard’s loveliness. Indeed, he spoke with sufficient enthusiasm for then-Gazette editor and publisher Henry Beetle Hough a year later, when seeking funds for the purchase of the Daggett property at Cedar Tree Neck for Sheriff’s Meadow, asked Mr. Udall’s aid. Secretary Udall warmly endorsed the project and agreed to let his name be used in fund-raising appeals.
Feisty journalist Liz Carpenter, who also died on Saturday, was, from time to time, a companion to Lady Bird Johnson in Vineyard Haven during the 1980s and 1990s when the former First Lady rented the Charles Guggenheim house near West Chop. Mrs. Carpenter is remembered by those who saw her then not only for her vigor and outspokenness and her dedication to Lady Bird, but also for her appreciation of the Island she was visiting. Like her employer, she delighted in Vineyard wildflowers and the quietness and charm and peace of the Island.
All three, for their contributions, will be sorely missed.