She was an Oak Bluffs selectman and I was a cub reporter for the New Bedford Standard Times. The year was 1973. Geraldyne DeBettencourt had recently been elected as the first woman selectman on the Vineyard. It was quite a milestone when you think about it now, especially placed in the context of nearly four decades ago when Island government was a dyed-in-the-wool, old-boy network. My professional world too was heavily populated by men, most of them kindly, small-town newspapermen who were willing to take me under their wing. I watched Gerry battle a gender barrier that was thankfully not so much in evidence in my profession, although it didn’t occur to me to think about it in those terms at the time.

I loved the Oak Bluffs selectmen and looked forward to covering their meetings — they were scrappy, combative and highly entertaining. The police chief and highway superintendent always sat in the same place in the back of the room. Gerry DeBettencourt was a sawed-off, outspoken woman whose broad vowels gave away her Oak Bluffs upbringing. She and Red Kennedy fought like cats and dogs, but always with the best interests of the town at heart.

In recent years, long retired from public office, and in her even earlier years of running a coffee shop on Circuit avenue, Gerry became something of a public watchdog for the town. Fiercely protective and always unafraid to go her own way, she defied stereotypes. The blue-collar woman who grew up in Oak Bluffs was an outspoken advocate for conservation during the bitterly divisive Southern Woodlands golf course controversy that literally tore the town in half. An unswerving Democrat and feminist in her own right, she campaigned unabashedly to the end for Hillary Clinton on the Island during the lead-up to the most recent presidential primary. She took special delight in a picture of herself taken with Mrs. Clinton during one of the presidential summers on the Island. Once while traveling she saw the U.S. Marine Corps Drum and Bugle Corps perform and fell in love with them, bringing them to the Island twice for performances. She was shot through with patriotism.

After I became editor, she would drop in at the Gazette office from time to time to tell me what she thought about some issue. I always welcomed her and listened.

Gerry DeBettencourt died last month after a period of declining health. Her obituary is published in today’s edition.

When I think back to the early years when I first came to know her, what occurs to me now is how much human civility and mutual respect has eroded in Island government. In 1977, when I had my first child, the Oak Bluffs selectmen sent me flowers at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital — a large bunch of pink roses with a card of congratulations for the baby girl.

Who would do such a thing today?