The Vineyard was flooded with expressions of grief and mourning this week over the loss of F. Patrick Gregory, the longtime West Tisbury town moderator and Vineyard Haven businessman who was fatally shot on a remote hiking trail in northern California a week ago today.
A memorial service and celebration of his life will be held Wednesday, May 28 at the Agricultural Hall. The service begins at 4 p.m.; a potluck gathering will follow.
Selectmen in Edgartown, Tisbury, Chilmark, Aquinnah and West Tisbury all took note of the tragedy at the outset of their meetings with moments of silence and remarks.
“Pat was a citizen of up-Island,” said Chilmark selectman Warren Doty on Tuesday. “He taught my children and he taught lots of children of this community. He was a regular at Menemsha Beach every Memorial Day and Labor Day. He was a citizen of our town as well as West Tisbury. It’s a very sad day for us.”
“And the whole Island,” added selectman Jonathan Mayhew.
At their meeting on Tuesday the Aquinnah selectmen moved to have the town flag lowered to half mast.
By now it is widely known that Mr. Gregory, who was 69, was the victim of a robbery and homicide on the morning of Friday, May 16.
The news of his death reached the Vineyard the following day, at first by word of mouth. Late Saturday the Tehama County Sheriff’s department confirmed that Mr. Gregory had been robbed, shot and killed while hiking the Iron Canyon Trail north of Red Bluff. The trail is part of the Sacramento River Bend Outstanding Natural Area, managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. Mr. Gregory’s hiking companion, a 76-year-old man from Manton, Calif., was also shot and critically injured and was airlifted to a hospital in Chico, Calif. The friend’s name is being withheld to protect his safety, authorities said, but he is reported to be in stable condition and is expected to recover. He has assisted authorities with information as a manhunt continues for the suspect, who is male. A police composite sketch and other information are being circulated, and a $1,500 reward is being offered for information that leads to an arrest.
Authorities said between 11:30 a.m. and noon that day, Mr. Gregory and his companion were hiking out of the canyon and were near the trailhead when they encountered a man who produced a firearm and demanded money and personal effects from the victims. “After the robbery was completed, the suspect then shot the victims and left them in the remote area about 100 yards from the trailhead,” a press release said.
The two men were found by another hiker three hours later who returned to the trailhead to notify emergency services. Mr. Gregory died at the scene, authorities said. His hiking companion was treated at the scene by paramedics and airlifted to the nearby hospital.
Mr. Gregory was well known on the Vineyard where he lived year-round in West Tisbury and had taught mathematics in the elementary school. He was the founder of Educomp, an office and art supply store and computer services company located in the brick building at the head of Main street in Vineyard Haven. He was married with grown children, had served on many boards and had been a soccer coach and referee. He had been the West Tisbury town moderator for 23 years.
The news of his death stunned the Island.
A moment of silence was held at the start of a town picnic at the public safety building late Saturday. On Sunday morning the West Tisbury town hall flag flew at half staff and the selectmen issued a statement. “Pat had served the town for 23 years as its always calm and collected moderator. We will miss his company and light touch at town meetings,” the statement said in part.
On Sunday afternoon flowers were placed on the front steps of the Educomp building with an oversized card that people could sign. It said “We Miss You Pat.”
At the end of the day Sunday an informal gathering was held at Lambert’s Cove Beach. People joined hands in a large circle as the setting sun scudded in and out of gathering clouds on a cool May day.
“Our hearts break for his family,” said Cynthia Mitchell, a West Tisbury selectman and friend.
Throughout the week reaction continued. By press time Thursday the Gazette had posted 92 comments to a story on its website, all of them signed. A collection of the comments are published on the Commentary Page in today’s edition.
In a 2008 interview with the Gazette, Mr. Gregory said he was inspired to run for the job of moderator by his experience as a teacher at the West Tisbury school. He said running a town meeting was not unlike running a classroom.
“You want to move things along, so the germane arguments are heard, but you don’t take forever to get done. I try to ensure no individual dominates, and reasonable voices on both sides are heard,” he said, adding: “Democracy works. That’s the bottom line. It’s pretty inspiring.”
In West Tisbury on Wednesday the regular selectmen’s meeting was cast in tones of sadness.
“How lovely and loved a man he was,” said Mrs. Mitchell who led the meeting with a moment of silence and remarks.
“I feel the shock and sadness of his tragic, senseless, awful death as I hear from people around town,” said selectman Richard Knabel.
“We were all stunned by the violent death . . . and fortunate enough to have such a kind and gentle person among us,” wrote town counsel Ronald H. Rappaport in an email.
Mrs. Mitchell also read a brief email from the Gregory family announcing the memorial service and thanking the Vineyard for its outpouring of support. “We want to thank the entire community for sharing their love and grief with us,” the email said.
Barbara Day, who attended the meeting, said there had been discussion about dedicating the bench in front of the new town library to Mr. Gregory.
Speaking to the Gazette outside the town hall after the meeting, Mrs. Day said she thought the bench would need to be turned a little. “It would be nice to feel his presence right there, facing the town hall,” she said.
Olivia Hull, Sydney Bender, Remy Tumin, Sara Brown and Ivy Ashe contributed reporting.
A group on the Vineyard led by Ebba Hierta has announced that the Tehama County Sheriff’s Office is accepting donations to the reward fund. Checks may be sent to the Secret Witness Program, P.O. Box 729, Red Bluff, CA 96080.