In summer, the slam of the screen door announced visitors before they called out the name of who they came to see. It was always special company when it was Uncle Ed, or Eddie as the adults called him, arriving with his booming voice, a firm handshake, kiss or a hug. Reaching the front door first to greet him, I remember laughing and writhing as he picked me up by the stomach and carried me on his hip wandering through the house, looking for my mom calling, “Millie, where’s Skip?” He’d be tickling me at the same time and saying, “Is he as incorrigible as ever?”

Seeing my mom, he’d usually put me down on a coffee table or a chair to give her a hug. She’d be laughing, too, and scolding him to stop encouraging me — and telling me to get down off of whatever he’d put me on.

Ed Brooke was a rock star in the innocent 1950s to many of us in the village of Oak Bluffs where the Allen, Allston, Coleman, Delany, Evans, Finley, Goldson, Gordon, Guild, Hall, Hamilton, Harris, Hayling, Henderson, Jackson, Jennings, March, Margetsen, Meacham, Nelson, Overton, Patrick, Patton, Pope, Preston, Rhodes, Robertson, Slaughter, Steele, Stent, Tankard, Usher, Van Allen, Walkers, Wareham, Washington and countless other families and playmates convened to grow up together, basking in the glow of the man soon to be a senator of the United States and who, like us, happened to be black. All these families whose Vineyard homes Ed Brooke visited have similar stories of personally knowing a senator who would write a letter of reference for college or to the draft board for those particularly unsuited for a military environment, even though he was a war hero himself.

Friends with my parents since the 1940s from college at Howard University, the senator knew me nearly my whole life. I played with his much-adored daughters Remi and Edwina and learned some choice Italian words from his first wife Remigia. Upon hearing about his death, I fondly looked back at our correspondence over my adult years thanking me for the contribution to his last political race or apologizing when he couldn’t make the opening of my art gallery in Boston. One letter thanked me for some advice about a radio investment he and a client had considered, and another series of notes asked and thanked me for a contribution for his friend Lowell Weicker, then seeking re-election as a Republican senator from Connecticut. Senator Weicker also sent a thank you note.

I’ve also come to love the senator’s other island, St. Maarten, the vacation home of his wife Anne where they spent so much time. But Martha’s Vineyard was always as special to him as he was to us.

I hadn’t seen the senator since 2006, when his book Bridging the Divide was published. I last spoke with him in May, calling to check in. He wished everyone on the Island well.

After his death, I spoke with Ed Brooke’s cousin, author and educator Dr. Adelaide Cromwell, also a longtime Vineyarder, who went to high school with him. She said she never knew anyone who didn’t like him. He was caring and honest even as a young man, and kept friends for life. Originally he planned to become a doctor, but Dr. Cromwell thought it was the war that changed him. During his time in Italy, he saw firsthand how black soldiers were treated worse than captive Germans. Dr. Cromwell said she never heard him say an unkind word about anyone, and while he was never wishy-washy, he always looked for the positive in people.

It’s thanks to Edward W. Brooke, and those like him, that it never occurred to those of us who summered in Oak Bluffs that you couldn’t be a senator or a president even if you were black. Thank you, Senator Brooke. Uncle Ed, may you rest in peace.

Skip Finley is a retired broadcast executive who now works for the Gazette.