Family, friends, and admirers of the late Norman Bridwell, who died in December, gathered at the Federated Church Monday for a memorial service honoring the longtime Edgartown resident and author and illustrator well-known for the Clifford the Big Red dog series.

“We’ve already had a burial in December,” his son Tim Bridwell said. “But we wanted to wait until the summer when everyone’s here and have a more light-hearted memorial to share our memories of him.”

Mr. Bridwell's son Tim said everyone on the Island seems to have been touched by Mr. Bridwell or his work. — Mark Lovewell

The memorial service was open to the public, with all those on the Island invited to walk in and share in the celebration of Mr. Bridwell’s life, as well as share any encounters of experiences they may have had with him on the Vineyard. This was not a tall order, as Tim Bridwell explained, since, “Almost everyone on the Island seems to have some story about him and his work and how they were touched by it.”

Many of those present had not only known Mr. Bridwell but also experienced the kindness and generosity for which he was so well-known. His books not only adorn the shelves of schools from Edgartown to West Tisbury, after all, but can also be found in Kenya as part of the teaching initiatives that frequently included the Clifford series.

Mr. Bridwell will be further honored for his generosity this weekend at the Possible Dreams Auction. The event is dedicated this year to Mr. Bridwell, who was a longtime supporter of the annual fundraiser.

The memorial service featured an open microphone at which anyone was invited to speak about their experiences with Mr. Bridwell, as well as refreshments and early pictures and memorabilia from his younger years as a writer. This included a drawing done by Mr. Bridwell of an early Clifford and his owner Emily Elizabeth (named after Mr. Bridwell's daughter, Emily) which provided the impetus for expansion into a series of books, a television show and even a musical all focused around the eponymous big red dog.

Attendees looked at photographs. — Mark Lovewell

“He only made him red because he had a jar of red paint,” Tim Bridwell said in reference to the iconic color of the dog. “Someone said, ‘Well, the art is not so good but it looks like there’s a story there, so why don’t you make it a story?’”

Despite all the acclaim he garnered with the character, Mr. Bridwell never seemed to believe the massive success of his books. But the effect they had was large and international. Tim Bridwell discussed a trip to Japan where he saw a large picture of Clifford being used to advertise the safety rules on a subway platform in Tokyo.

“The metro cards even had little pictures on them. They’re collectables,” he joked.

Mr. Bridwell did not seem to acknowledge the staggering prominence of his work, however. One attendee, Arnie Reisman, remarked about an occasion in which Mr. Bridwell had to be told to ask for royalties for the use of his work for themed school supplies, and later remarked about getting a five figure check just for “a bunch of erasers.” This kind of spirit, though, was simply indicative of the person he was, according to most of those present: easy going, kind, and always equipped with witticisms wherever he might go.

Norman Bridwell on his Edgartown porch in 2012. — Katie Ruppel

“He was an easy person to be with, which was good because he worked at home 24/7 all his years,” said his widow Norma Bridwell. “I couldn’t have an argument with him because he just refused to argue, ever!”

As the crowd shared their thoughts about Mr. Bridwell, one of his grandchildren played Resurrection of the Angel by Astor Piazzolla on the piano in the background. Mrs. Bridwell advised those around her to read a poem, printed along with doodles from Mr. Bridwell’s drawing table on the programs passed out to those in attendance, to gain a better sense of Mr. Bridwell’s life. The poem, The Heaven of Animals by James Dickey, was a favorite of Mr. Bridwell’s. It concludes, “They rise, they walk again.”