When Howard Attebery moved to the Island at age 91 to be with the woman he loved, he brought his first love, that of microbiology, with him.
He married and moved in with Cynthia Riggs and the home library at their West Tisbury home was turned into his lab. The centerpiece of the lab was a high-tech binocular microscope with the capability to hook up to a television monitor, under which Mr. Attebery would study the cellular habits of drops of pond water.
Mr. Attebery died this February at the age of 94, but his lab equipment and his memory will live on at the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School in its new home in the new Vernon Jordan science wing. Ms. Riggs and Mr. Attebery’s son Mark decided to donate the equipment and his research papers to the charter school.
Science teacher Jane Paquet will lead a demonstration with Mr. Attebery’s microscope at the charter school at 1 p.m. on March 24. Ms. Riggs, Mark Attebery, his wife Jennifer and their children Luke and Sophia will all be attending.
Mr. Attebery was many things, among them a dentist, a photographer and a romantic. But he always identified as a microbiologist.
In the home they shared for five years, Ms. Riggs recalled Mr. Attebery putting a few drops of water from their fish pond onto a slide and calling her over to have a look. In the water, shown on a 24-inch LG television screen hooked up to the microscope, was a little wiggling creature that looked like a bear. As she watched, the figure began to change.
“All of a sudden, it started wriggling, writhing and squirming, and I asked what’s happening? And he said, ‘I think you’re about to see something that not a lot of people get to see, and that is this is going to divide,’” Ms. Riggs said. “So I watched it, and this little bear stretched and stretched and stretched and all these wiggly things inside started straightening out, it started thinning out like an hour glass and all the sudden it went snap, and there were two of these little bears.”
Mr. Attebery always loved to share science, Ms. Riggs said, and he also loved kids, so it’s fitting the equipment will be going to students.
Paul Karasik, former development director at the school who helped facilitate the donation, said the microscope will be a powerful teaching tool.
“The fact that this esteemed and very elderly scientist would donate this equipment for very young children who are entering into their interest in science and kindling an interest in science, it continues Howard’s legacy through the tools of science,” he said. “There’s something beautiful about that.”
When Mr. Attebery arrived to the Vineyard, he devised a plan to test all the Island freshwater ponds for a protozoa common in Texas, Ms. Riggs said. He finished about five ponds before running out of steam.
“There are only one hundred to go,” she said. Perhaps the students at the charter school will be able to finish his experiment, she added. “I think that would be a neat project for the kids to do.”
Whatever projects the microscope is used for in the future, it will fit right in with the new science wing, which was dedicated at the start of the school year.
“We have a brand new facility, including a brand new storage area to keep such a beautiful and delicate piece of equipment,” said Mr. Karasik.
Ms. Riggs said donating the equipment to the school will help the spirit of Howie live on.
“That’s going to keep Howie going for generations, long after I’m gone,” she said.