Isabel Geraldine Washington Powell (5/23/1908 – 5/1/2007) of Oak Bluffs would have been 99 years old had she lived until her birthday the year she died. Much has been written about her husband Adam Clayton Powell Jr. whom she loved and to whom she was married from 1933 until they divorced in 1945.

Mrs. Powell never remarried and was quoted saying: “I so admire the things he did and we had such fun. Those 12 years were the best anyone could have.”

Isabel Washington was a beautiful woman, as evidenced by her picture on a playbill poster for the Afro-American musical comedy Bomboola. The show played at the Royale Theatre on Broadway in 1929. She also performed in Harlem at the Apollo in 1929 and Singin the Blues in 1931. In 1934 Isabel was in the film St. Louis Blues and Imitation of Life, an Academy Award-nominated movie that also featured her older sister, Fredi Washington, an accomplished actress.

Isabel was a dancer at the famed Cotton Club when she met Adam Clayton Powell Jr. She eventually gave up the nightclub and theatre life to marry him and became a much-loved figure in uptown society. The couple honeymooned here in Oak Bluffs where Congressman Powell had stayed with his father at the historic Shearer Cottage. They bought their home on Vineland avenue (today renamed Dorothy West avenue) in 1937, and called it the Bunny Cottage honoring their pet names for each other, Bunny Girl and Bunny Boy.

Isabel Washington Powell learned that not all fairytales have happy endings. Along with the divorce she was a breast cancer survivor. She became a special education teacher in the Harlem public school system working with young children. She also remained the center of a large social circle in New York and here in Oak Bluffs where she summered every year until she died.

While on Island she attended to her flowers and entertained a wide collection of guests — with a patented selection of adult beverages — on her front porch. An avid angler, she loved saltwater fishing and life.

“To be alive and be a part of this world, you have to be able to handle everything. You’ve got to know who you are in order to have a good life,” she said.

Ever quotable, in a Vineyard Gazette interview from 2002, she said: “My only problem is I don’t have enough room on my calendar for everything I want to do.”

Her personal standards were well attended to as well, not coming downstairs without makeup.

“Because I have to look at me, I know who I am. I know who I want to be, who until I die, I will always be.”

Appropriately nicknamed Belle, she was always that of the ball. Her home today is a landmark on the African American Heritage Trail of Martha’s Vineyard, like her friend and neighbor Dorothy West’s home. Both will be featured in the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of African American History and Culture opening this September. Reports are that her grandson, Preston Powell, has donated family items to the Smithsonian Institute for the exhibit.

Celebrate fathers at Dapper Dads Day on Saturday, June 18 from 10 to 11:30 a.m. at the Oak Bluffs Public Library for ages three and older in the children’s room with donuts and crafts.

Work on the new sidewalk leading up Dukes County avenue to the harbor has begun, in perfect harmony with Saturday’s Harbor Festival, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The event is free to the public. Enjoy live music, food, arts, crafts and vendors. The rain date is Sunday, June 19.

Of all structures in America built specifically as movie theatres by 1915, only five remain. The Island Theatre is one. It opened as the Eagle, and is currently the fifth oldest theatre in this category. Just when our up-Island neighbors plan to pave paradise and put in a parking lot, building inspector Mark Barbadoro finds himself forced to ensure public safety by declaring the theatre unsafe. Absent a fix it is scheduled for demolition by the fall. What a way to celebrate a 101st year anniversary! Tough time to be on the planning board huh? Affordable housing, parking, hotel, mini-mall, park, Stop & Shop…care to occasion a guess anyone?

Congratulations to Barbara and Doug Peckham on their 65th wedding anniversary this past Tuesday, June 14.

Isabel Washington Powell’s biography Adam’s Belle: A Memoir of Love Without Bounds was published with co-author Joyce Burnett in 2008 and is available on Amazon.

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads — and moms doing double duty.

Keep your foot on a rock.

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