There are so many memorial benches lining the Inkwell and Pay beaches all the way down to the Steamship Authority that one loses count over such a distance. It could be the changing waterscape that distracts; waving at friends going by, the way the sun sits in the midst of billowy clouds, wondering if a glint on the sand below is a lost treasure needing inspection. Truth be known, it’s probably just ADD. Recently a bench plaque attracted my attention: “Ronald Chance Brown, MD, from Slaveship to Steamship.” This eloquent — brilliant even — phrase piqued my interest. Was this relevant to Oak Bluffs’ history as an African American resort as lauded by the Smithsonian Institute? A paean to an unknown historical figure?

After some Googling, I came to my senses and contacted Priscilla Sylvia (Mrs. Sylvia if you attended the Oak Bluffs School) who, in her role with the Friends of Oak Bluffs, handles the sale of memorials. Despite a crashed computer, some years ago she was kind enough to take time to locate information on Dr. Brown so I could contact and get the story from his daughter Yasamin.

Born Sept. 25, 1948, Ronald Chance Brown earned his MD from Yale in the early seventies. Having visited the Vineyard as a child, in the eighties he bought his family their first home in Edgartown, and the second on Tuckernuck here in Oak Bluffs. He loved the Vineyard, where uncharacteristically unshaven and donning a dashiki, he spent much of his vacation hanging out at the Inkwell. Always neatly attired with a bow tie at work, friends would tease him saying he looked more like an African medicine man than the doctor he was. That may have occasioned the phrase that caught my eye. His pastor shared a story of when, having asked about the bow tie, Dr. Brown said he could get one too. The bow tie story drew much needed levity at his funeral service when the pastor recounted indeed, why would he want one? While he loved the Vineyard and found peace here, Dr. Ronald Chance Brown died of a self-inflicted gunshot in August 2002 due to the demon of depression. There’s a mile of memories on those benches.

From 5 to 7 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 30, the Martha’s Vineyard Museum hosts the opening reception for Oak Bluffs Portraits: As Time Goes By, the first of three exhibits prepared by Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School students. The show, open for the whole month of February, was produced by Chris Baer’s photography class and re-creates archival photographs they discovered of Oak Bluffs. According to museum education director Ann DuCharme the creative students had a hand in everything related to curating this exhibit of their interesting work. The students staked out the hidden and less traversed spots of downtown Oak Bluffs and encouraged strangers to be included in the new versions of classic pictures. The exhibit displays several different themes with people and places changing over time, highlighting the connections the students made between modern times and the archival photographs. In March, the Spotlight Gallery will feature an exhibit from Elaine Weintraub’s Irish history class entitled An Gorta Mor and Martha’s Vineyard, and in April, Corinne Kurtz and the history club will debut Mystery Quilt, about a mystery quilt from 1890 signed by 14 Vineyard women. Each exhibit is free to the public. Stop by the As Time Goes By reception this evening from 5 to 7 p.m.

On Saturday, Jan. 31, meet new adult technology services librarian Allyson Malik at the Oak Bluffs library from 1 to 2 p.m. Welcome, Allyson.

February is Black History Month and the Unitarian Universalist Society of Martha’s Vineyard begins the month on Sunday presenting Lucy Hackney who will speak about her personal friendship with Rosa Parks, the lady of whom it can be said started the civil rights movement. Mrs. Parks tailored Lucy’s wedding dress but couldn’t attend the wedding in the segregated church. She remained close to Lucy and her family throughout her life. Lucy’s father, attorney Clifford Durr, helped bail Mrs. Parks out of jail for refusing to move to the back of the bus. Lucy’s mother worked to abolish the poll tax and her brother in law Hugo Black voted to end school segregation as a member of the Supreme Court. Peter McLean, Dan Waters and Monica Van Horn are the musical guests. The service begins at 11 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 1.

If you would like to establish a memorial with a brick at the bandstand in Ocean Park, a bench, or a lantern, you can get information at

Go Pats!

Keep your foot on a rock.

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